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Pitchers welcome challenge of Ausmus' ragball drill

LAKELAND, Fla. -- The drill sounds like target practice: A coach hitting choppers and grounders right at a pitcher standing maybe 30 feet away. To Tigers pitchers, however, it sounds like fun.

That's the essence of the ragball drill that new manager Brad Ausmus has brought with him to Spring Training, having picked it up with the Padres. In essence, it's an extreme version of pitchers fielding practice, though the balls are softer than standard baseballs so they don't leave a bruise.

So far, it has been a welcome departure from the normal Spring Training routine.

"I'm very happy we're doing this," Max Scherzer said. "We don't get much of a reaction drill."

It's quite rare, in fact, for pitchers to have their quick reactions tested from that angle. Hard-hit comebackers are something usually to avoid in games, let alone practices, for good reason, given the risk of injury. The softer baseballs take that part out, allowing pitchers the setting to get used to a ball coming back at them straight-on at a high rate of speed.

"It's basically just for the pitchers to react to balls being hit right back at them without the risk of being hit in the face with a baseball," Ausmus said after the first day. "And it can be tough. It's more of a reaction drill."

Said Scherzer: "It's coming at you so fast, you have to be 100 percent on your toes."

The drill has become a form of competition for pitchers, to the point that Ausmus is splitting them into teams to see who can fare better.

"There is a prize at the end," Ausmus said.

Jason Beck is a reporter for Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. Adam Berry is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry.
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