Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Granderson's Bright Smile Is Sure To Dull Opponents' Senses

The last time a Detroit sports team employed a smiling assassin, he wore #11 and made his living on the hardwood.

Isiah Thomas, the cherubic point guard, took great joy in twisting the knife in his opponents' backs even as he was grinning from ear-to-ear. And he smiled all the way to two World Championships and within seconds of a third. The other team rarely smiled, though, when Isiah got into one of his zones.

There's another happy-go-lucky athlete toiling in town who will just as quickly steal your lunch as he will chomp on his ever-present gum.

Curtis Granderson has a smile that could light up Woodward Avenue if there was ever a massive power outage. He is rising in stature now -- functioning as a baseball commentator for Sirius Radio Network, and blogging for He traveled overseas last winter, teaching baseball to youngsters and spreading good cheer.

But there won't be too many pitchers smiling, I submit, when Grandy steps into the batter's box this summer. He has worked hard to exhibit patience and a better eye at the plate, trying to cut down on those unsightly 174 strikeouts for a leadoff hitter, which he had in 2006.

Early indications are that it's working. He only fanned seven times in spring training. And if he becomes more of a contact hitter, then opposing teams are going to be even more miserable handling the Tigers' lineup.

Carlos Guillen is still, in my mind and that of others, the team's MVP, if you have to pick one guy for that honor. Placido Polanco is right up there, too. And you can toss Granderson in there, because if he improves as anticipated, the Tigers will have a very dangerous leadoff hitter.

Against righthanders, anyway. The lefty-swinging Granderson is slated to be the Tigers' leadoff hitter against righties, and will slip down the order against lefties -- when Pudge Rodriguez is expected to bat leadoff.

Granderson showed some more of that potential today, golfing a low changeup over the right-centerfield wall for a grand slam. It wasn't the easiest pitch to hit out -- especially on a cold day like today -- but Curtis did it, and that's what he can do: offer power at the top of the order, which means the Tigers have power at the top, in the middle, and at the bottom. Did I leave anything out?

It'll be fun to watch Granderson mature as a ballplayer, and something tells me this is going to be a breakout year for him. I think .300/25/80 is possible. Last season, Granderson went .260/19/68.

But the most important number -- the one that will officially tell us whether he's turning the corner -- is that awful 174. That many strikeouts from a leadoff guy -- especially one who doesn't bunt or steal bases, as Granderson doesn't do enough yet -- is completely unacceptable. And he knows it. Granderson, I can tell you, is a student of the game. He respects it. So when the strikeout number rose to Rob Deer-like levels last summer, Granderson knew he'd have to go to work to stunt that growth.

So if the 174 can be cut drastically -- like maybe to just a tad over 100 for starters -- then the Tigers will have one of the game's best leadoff guys. As if that lineup needed to get anymore formidable.

Grandy can go right on smiling. The more he does, the less likely the other team's guys are following suit.



Blogger Ozz said...

Do you know what I liked most about that grand slam? Curtis' hustle. It wasn't immediately apparent that the ball was going to clear the fence, but from the moment he made contact, he was hustling! I like to see guys play hard, and he's a guy that does.

10:52 AM  

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