DETROIT — Brad Ausmus seems to be really smart, as one would expect a Dartmouth graduate to be.
The rookie manager of the Detroit Tigers is also intelligent enough to know he doesn’t have all the answers, even as he got a taste of what life is like leading a team in his first week as a major league skipper.
The Tigers rallied to win twice and also won in a rout. They blew a big lead in the ninth, but held on for another victory. On Sunday, his team got beat in businesslike fashion by the Orioles.
The upshot is – and it is very early in the 162-game season – the Tigers have the best record in baseball.
In addition to a stellar rotation and superstar Miguel Cabrera, a cool, calm and collected rookie manager has something to do with Detroit’s early success.
“He seems pretty laid back,” right-hander Justin Verlander said. “There’s no panic. He just lets the game unfold.”
After ending his playing career ended in 2010, Ausmus worked in the Padres front office as a special assistant to the general manager for three years and managed Israel’s team for the 2013 World Baseball Classic. In Detroit, he acknowledges leaning on bench coach Gene Lamont and his half-century of experience in professional baseball along with pitching coach Jeff Jones, who has been in the game for nearly four decades.
Ausmus also soaked up the opportunity to spend time with his predecessor, Jim Leyland, during spring training and relished the opportunity to exchange text messages with him in recent days.
“He’s got it figured out, but he’ll find out there’s a lot to learn because he’ll be willing to listen,” Leyland said Monday of Ausmus. “I think he’s a great fit, a terrific fit in fact for the Tigers.”
When Leyland decided it was time to step away from managing at the age of 68 last season after winning a third straight AL Central title, Detroit president and general manager Dave Dombrowski determined Ausmus was ready to step up to accept the challenge of making a good team a World Series champion.
So far, so good.
“It doesn’t seem like he’s got anything to learn,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “They’re lucky to have him. He’s going to be a good one. He already is.”
Ausmus said the best part of his new job of being in the dugout during games, analyzing situations and plotting his next move. He also enjoys being around his coaching staff and the clubhouse camaraderie with players. The 44-year-old Ausmus looks more like a player than a manager.
“He needs to put on some weight and look a lot more slovenly,” Showalter joked.
Detroit’s 38-year-old outfielder, Torii Hunter, said Ausmus is an asset because he has nearly two decades of experience as a catcher in a career that ended recently enough to give him personal perspective to share.
“He’s not too long removed from the game, so he knows what pitchers are throwing,” Hunter said. “I’ll ask him, ‘What do you think he’s going to throw in an even count?’ And he’ll tell you because if he doesn’t know from his own experience, he knows from studying the game.”
The three-time Gold Glove winner and one-time All-Star said nothing has surprised him as a manager so far.
“It’s just been baseball,” he said simply.
In a relaxed, 15-minute pregame conversation with reporters in his office, Ausmus said he has realized trying to grind for a hit during a game as a player was harder than thinking about the game as a manager. He also believes his job during the regular season is a little easier than it was at spring training because there are fewer changes to make over the course of the game.
“During spring training games, a lot of times, I’d find if I wasn’t paying attention, I didn’t know the count, and (third base coach) Dave Clark was looking for me,” Ausmus recalled. “I found in these games, the focus comes a lot easier, and a lot more intense.”
The San Diego-area resident expects familiar faces in the stands this week when the Tigers play the Los Angeles Dodgers and Padres on the road.
“My friends will probably heckle me,” Ausmus said with a grin.
That’s OK. He can certainly take a joke these days.