Verlander benefits from showdown with Miggy

February 20th, 2017

LAKELAND, Fla. -- sounded like a heavyweight fighter as he lurked behind the batting cage on one of the back fields at Tigertown on Sunday.

"Get ready, Verlander," he shouted toward the end. "Get ready."

Cabrera was joking around with Tigers ace . With pitchers facing hitters at this stage of camp, teammates were pitted against each other. In this case, the teammates were the two most recognizable faces on the team.

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Verlander is notoriously serious about these live batting sessions, seeking feedback from catchers and hitters, cursing himself when he doesn't execute a pitch to his liking, and keeping a regular count on his pitches. Still, even he seemed to be struggling to hold back a smile once or twice.

When he left one of his final pitches up and over the plate to Cabrera, he didn't curse. He chuckled in relief when Cabrera fouled it back.

"That was your pitch," he said. "Later in the season, you don't miss that pitch."

Unlike many hitters facing pitchers for the first time this early in camp, Cabrera swung aggressively.

"He tried to ambush me like my brother did," Verlander said, referring to Class A Advanced Lakeland outfielder Ben Verlander's home run off him in a Minor League camp game last spring.

Cabrera had fun with it, wiggling in the batter's box more than once to get the small gathering of fans to laugh. But he also provided some quality feedback on Verlander's pitches.

"It's nice to get feedback from guys that have seen so much, even though they're not nearly in game-ready shape," Verlander said. "It's still the eye test. They might not be on time [with their swings], if they tell you they didn't see this [pitch] out of your hand or this looked good, that's always very encouraging."

Cabrera didn't take any of Verlander's pitches deep, but he made more contact than others in the group, which included J.D. Martinez and .

Infante reprises utility role

The last time played a utility role, he was an All-Star. That happened with the Braves in 2010.

He was just 28 then. As he returns to familiar surroundings with the Tigers as a non-roster invite to Spring Training, he's trying to get back to that versatility at age 35. It's not easy, he admits, but he's working at it.

The Tigers signed Infante early in the offseason. Detroit was looking at a potentially busy winter at that point, but a huge roster overhaul never happened. Infante is left with the challenge of trying to win a bench role on a team whose lineup is largely set.

The one exception is in center field, a position Infante hasn't played in a game since 2009 and hasn't played extensively since making 10 starts in center for the Tigers a decade ago.

Infante said he can still play center, and he actually feels better there than in the corners because he has room to roam and can get better reads. He's trying to rekindle his outfield instincts in drills. But with so many other candidates for the job, getting playing time there this spring will be tough.