DETROIT -- Manager Ron Gardenhire has lifted the culture in the Tigers' clubhouse with his approach, equal parts enthusiasm and patience for a rebuilding club and increasingly younger roster. As the Tigers struggled through last week's West Coast trip, Gardenhire finally had to vent.
He talked about finishing the season the way they started, playing hard for nine innings and not giving up until the last out. He talked about recognizing weaknesses and trying to improve. He talked about being a more fundamentally sound team, knowing assignments, making smart plays, regardless of results.
"Sloppy baseball, didn't run a couple of balls out, those are all the little things that we need to make changes in," Gardenhire said last week, "the whole organization."
Gardenhire has done his best to instill his philosophies and style of play in Detroit. The next step is to have that philosophy instilled in the Minor Leagues, so that it's ingrained by the time players reach the Majors.
"That's the goal," Gardenhire said Wednesday. "We're trying to do the same thing all the way up, whether it's the signs, the plays that we're using, that stuff. I never want to stop [Minor League managers] from being able to put some plays in, pickoffs, stuff like that. But you need to get it from the ground up on how we're going to play the game.
"It's not so much the ability part of it. It's all about the respect for the game. It's about running balls out, making them accountable for it, not just, 'Aw, that's OK, tough night.' If you don't run the ball out, you take them out of the ballgame. The little things like that will add up if you hold them accountable for not respecting this game and not playing hard and nonchalanting things, showing up late. All those things will make this organization better all the way up, and those guys have been doing a really nice job of that down there. And I hope they continue."
For a rebuilding team, the Tigers have few homegrown players on their roster. Nicholas Castellanos, James McCann and Grayson Greiner are pretty much it for position players, with a handful of guys on the pitching side. Most of the current roster came in through free agency or trades, many of the latter occurring while the players were still in the Minor Leagues.
They've bought into what Gardenhire and coaches have been teaching. But it's easier when players are brought up around it.
"That's the process we're talking about, teaching how we want people to view this organization, these players," Gardenhire said. "This is the way we're going to play aggressive baseball. We're gonna run all over the place and have some fun and let these guys learn. The only way you can learn to steal bases is by trying to steal bases. The only way you can learn about trying to get an extra base out of a base hit is by busting your tail when you hit it. And those are the things we're going to be really preaching hard."
The Tigers have worked for the last few years to establish consistent coaching philosophies throughout the system. One of general manager Al Avila's early tasks, helped by former manager Brad Ausmus, was to establish a set of expectations and standards known as The Tiger Way.
Gardenhire's influence is already seen in player development. His former first baseman, Doug Mientkiewicz, is the manager at Triple-A Toledo. Gardenhire also had several Minor League coaches working with him in the early stages of Spring Training to get a sense of their philosophies.
"The fundamental part of it, these guys all teach that. They teach ground balls, they hit ground balls. They teach pitching," Gardenhire said. "But the basis of it is what we want people to view us as: It's a hard organization, they get after the game, they come to play every day, and they respect the game, they run balls out. That's when you'll have something here, when that's the way it's expected and they all hold each other accountable. That's what we're looking for."