- Associated Press - Friday, February 19, 2016

LAKELAND, Fla. (AP) - No need to remind Brad Ausmus and the Detroit Tigers how the standings looked at the end of last season.

For the first time in five years, the Tigers reported to spring training without a division championship to defend, and for an organization that has spent so much money while pushing for a World Series title, a last-place finish in 2015 was jarring. Detroit responded by signing two more high-profile free agents this past offseason, which could put the Tigers right back in contention.

Still, last season’s 74-win ordeal is still fresh in a lot of minds.

“The players that were here last year understand that it was not a fun year, and they’d like to change that going into 2016. I don’t think that’s going to be something that even has to be explained to them,” said Ausmus, who is entering his third year as Detroit’s manager. “Doesn’t mean it won’t be mentioned, but I don’t think it has to be explained to the vast majority of the guys in that room - and the truth is if you have to explain it to them, then there’s something wrong with them.”

Detroit held its first official workout for pitchers and catchers Friday, and spring training is off to a mostly smooth start. Closer Francisco Rodriguez hadn’t arrived yet - Ausmus said he was having visa issues - but the Tigers have fewer obvious concerns than they did last year, when Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez had offseason operations.

Ausmus said this year feels more like 2014, when he was a rookie manager and the Tigers arrived at camp without many openings on their big league roster.

That year, the atmosphere was so loose at spring training that a Detroit player appeared in a viral photo posing with an alligator. The Tigers were a veteran team that liked to laugh a bit, and they went on to win their fourth straight AL Central title.

Now they’re coming off a humbling season in which general manager Dave Dombrowski was let go and replaced by longtime assistant Al Avila. Ausmus’ status was in doubt, as well, but he’s back to try to help the Tigers rebound from 2015.

It’s a little early to make any declarations about the team’s mood at spring training, but even after signing right-hander Jordan Zimmermann and outfielder Justin Upton in the offseason, Detroit has a lot to prove.

“It’s a new year, a new team. Let’s see what happens,” third baseman Nick Castellanos said. “Every spring training, you always feel good, because you’re looking for a promising season.”

The first workout for Detroit’s full team is Tuesday. Until then, pitchers and catchers will get the attention.

One hard-throwing right-hander whose performance is worth watching is 25-year-old Bruce Rondon. Once considered a potential closer, Rondon’s career was interrupted by Tommy John surgery, and when he came back last year he went 1-0 with a 5.81 ERA in 35 games.

In September, he was sent home by the Tigers because of concerns about his effort level - another low point for the team in a season full of them. He didn’t want to say much Friday about what happened.

“In baseball, you learn small things every single day, and that was a difficult time,” he said through a translator. “I’m ready to keep learning.”

Ausmus discussed Rondon’s outlook before the team’s workout, saying the big reliever seemed to be in a good frame of mind.

“Last season’s in the past,” Ausmus said. “We’re hoping that he’s the guy that the Tigers have thought he is for really the last three or four years, before I even arrived.”

That comment could just as easily apply to the team as a whole.

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Follow Noah Trister at www.Twitter.com/noahtrister


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