Blogs > Out of Left Field

A sometimes-irreverent look at Detroit's Boys of Summer, the Tigers, as they try to return to the top of the American League Central.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Fielder, Verlander part of new MLB All-Star Game spot

Prince Fielder and Justin Verlander — who between them have a combined nine All-Star Game appearances — star in a new advertisement promoting this year's game, much like the Opening Day ad illustrating why they and others play.

For Verlander, it's "for home-field advantage." For Fielder, it's "to become baseball royalty."

The ad, which will debut this week on ESPN, Fox, TBS and MLB Network, also includes Jose Bautista, Robinson Cano, Bryce Harper, Carlos Gonzalez, Matt Kemp, Adam Jones, Andrew McCutchen, Buster Posey, David Price, Mike Trout and David Wright. This year's All-Star Game will be at New York's Citi Field on July 16.

Tigers skipper Jim Leyland will manage the American League squad this season.

Last year, both Verlander and Fielder were starters for the American League All-Star team, while Miguel Cabrera was a reserve. The Tigers placed five on the 2011 AL All-Star team, with only Alex Avila earning the starting nod.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Ryan Kennedy Golf Outing for Childhood Cancer Research set for June 23 in Clarkston

It was mid-May last year when the world learned about a young boy from Clarkston, Ryan Kennedy, who’d made his own decision to suspend treatment for brain tumors that had ravaged him since 2007.

His fight ended shortly thereafter, but his family is still continuing the battle a year later.

On June 23, they will host the Ryan Kennedy Golf Outing for Childhood Cancer Research at Fountains Golf Course in Clarkston. The proceeds of the $100 registration fee for 18 holes — with dinner afterward — will go to the CERN (Collaborative Ependymoma Research Network) Foundation. You can also register for just the dinner for $35.

To register online, go to

Donations can be sent care of Kennedy’s mother, Kimberly Karp, at 4457 Sunflower, Clarkston, MI 48346. Email or with any questions.

If you don’t remember Kennedy’s story, here it is in brief:

Despite a dire prognosis that he wouldn’t last long enough to see his 10th birthday, Kennedy lived through that day, and two days past, before succumbing to his illness.

Kennedy’s story, which started with a social media movement in his hometown, became a worldwide phenomenon during the final days of his life. After running in The Oakland Press, it was picked up by CNN and ABC and other news organizations, and carried around the world, translated into at least four different languages.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Tigers may get Austin Jackson back soon, but have done well in his absence

DETROIT — The Tigers need Austin Jackson back.

And they don’t, at the same time.

For as much as they need their offensive catalyst and Gold Glove-caliber center fielder, they’ve done a creditable job of filling for him while he’s been on the disabled list with a sore left hamstring.

Guys like Don Kelly, Andy Dirks and Avisail Garcia have filled in on defense, while Dirks and Omar Infante have done well in his leadoff spot.

“I’m really, really pleased with the center-field situation in Austin’s absence. That’s really worked out well for us,” manager Jim Leyland said. “We’ve lucked out so far with our center-field situation. I know fans get tired of me talking about it, but Kelly’s done a good job in center field. Don’t get me wrong, he’s not a great center fielder, but he’s done a very credible job filling in, very credible. And Garcia. I’ve been able to slide Dirks over there. We’ve been lucky.”

It could’ve been far worse, given the fact they’d entrusted the keys to MLB’s highest-scoring offense to guys unused to the role.

Dirks and Infante have kept the offense going well — averaging 5.3 runs per game in the 15 contests Jackson had missed before Tuesday’s — hitting a combined .315 (23-for-73) with 13 runs scored, two home runs and three doubles. The platoon of Kelly and Garcia in center has hit a combined .196, but has contributed three home runs, eight RBI and 11 runs.

Most importantly, the Tigers have gone 9-6 in those 15 games. Last year, when Jackson spent time on the disabled list, the Tigers went 8-13.

“We’ve done all right. We’ve done OK. Done a pretty good job,” Leyland admitted. “We gotta get him back pretty soon, though. But I don’t want to get him back until it’s right.

“But I’d like to get him back pretty soon.”

That could be soon enough.

Initially, it looked like Jackson might be back on time. He was eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list on Monday.

But he wasn’t ready.

He could be on the upcoming road trip, though.

“It’s one of those doing better. I’m hoping, possibly, sometime on this trip that he could go out and get some at-bats, but I can’t swear to that,” Leyland said. “When you say time, he probably go down and get a few at-bats — hopefully not a lot of them.”

Jackson has been able to swing a bat, but that’s about “as far as we can go with it, really,” he said, admitting he has not started full baseball activities.

“No. Not yet. We did some light agility, some drills to get on the ground a little bit, but that’s pretty much as far as it went.”

Hamstrings are a frustratingly finicky injury, especially for a guy like Jackson, who depends so much on his legs.

You don’t want to push it.

“Yeah, because you just never know. The last thing you want to do is, one day it feels really good, and get out there and try to push it, and possibly re-injure it, then we’d be back to step one,” Jackson said.

“I mean, that would be good to maybe get out there and hit, get out there on the field. But you never know. You just gotta see how it feels each and every day, before you get out there just because you want to be out there. You gotta really take your time with it, make sure it’s healed, and make sure it’s pain-free before you start pushing for more activities.”

Leyland has said repeatedly he doesn’t want Jackson back until he’s “right.”

“We talked about that: ‘Get it right.’ I don’t want him to come back 85 percent and try to play and then do it again. Try to get it as close to 100 percent as you can. You might not get it to 100 percent. Who knows?” the manager said, admitting that even time isn’t a guarantee of full recovery.

“That’s the way it usually works. Look what happened to (Tigers minor leaguer Dixon) Machado. They gave him all kind of time. They can be tough. They can linger. They gave that kid all kinds of time and he got back and now he’s out again.”

That’s the last thing the Tigers want.

But at least they know they have the luxury of taking their time.

Short hops
That outfield depth will be tested this weekend, when right fielder Torii Hunter will miss Friday and Saturday games in Baltimore to attend the graduation of his son in Texas.

Nationwide DFM baseball live chat for May 28

I'll be part of Digital First Media's initial weekly nationwide live chat this afternoon at 2:30 p.m. Please join myself and fantasy baseball columnist Mike Wollschlager with questions.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Did we make too much of Verlander's three-game mini-slump? Leyland thinks yes ... but also no

Here's the full postgame quote from Tigers manager Jim Leyland, addressing whether or not too much was made of the past three outings by staff ace Justin Verlander, where he posted an 11.37 ERA — a trio of abbreviated outings that totaled just 12.2 innings, allowing his ERA to balloon from 1.55 to 3.66:

"Well, no I don’t think anybody made too much of it. Why I say that, I personally think people made too much of it, but I don’t think people made too much of it.

"I’ll explain myself: When you’re one of the faces of baseball, like Justin Verlander, a Cy Young winner, and an MVP winner, and a big name like he is, you’re going to think that people are going to talk about you more than somebody else. That’s just the way it is. That kind of goes along with the territory.

"I didn’t make too much out of it, but I can understand, is what I guess I’m saying. I can understand why the public did, because he’s one of the faces of Major League Baseball today.

"This is a very fickle business. That’s just the way it is. These sports are very fickle business. Hero today, bum tomorrow. That’s just the way it works. That’s how this (crap) goes on. 

"It didn’t surprise me that people were concerned, they had his pitches (tipping), velocity down — his velocity’s not down; he’s got the velocity (when) he wants to. He’s made some bad pitches and he was in a two- or three-game rut where he wasn’t close to being perfect.

"Plus, the other thing is, people make adjustments. You could see what they were trying to do today. They were trying to be real aggressive early on him. That’s kind of what people have been trying to do, because we’ve been talking about trying to get ahead, getting Strike One — well, people are being real aggressive with that.

"He threw some change-ups in the first inning. We think that he’s just gotta mix his pattern up a little bit. Because there’s all kind of scouting tools today. They have an advance scout in the stands, they’ve got video to watch, so there’s a lot of information that goes out there. So you gotta make an adjustment. You can’t just go out there pumping fastballs in the first inning. It won’t work. They’re trying to get their swings off on him early, before he gets to the curve, and the change-up and the slider. I mean, it looks like that to me, anyway. Doesn’t mean he can’t throw fastballs down and away. You can.

"This guy’s a terrific pitcher, and like I said, I thought he had a good curveball today, and was in a pretty good rhythm today.I thought he threw one bad pitch to (Gabby) Sanchez. That’s the only pitch that I thought was kind of a bad pitch. Eighty-nine mph fastball. I’m pretty sure it was a fastball.

"But that’s one pitch. That’s pretty good if you’re talking about one pitch. ... He’s fine."

Mario Impemba's 'MVP' program, to honor vets, starts on Memorial Day

DETROIT — The color commentator for the Detroit Tigers television broadcasts on Fox Sports Detroit, Rod Allen, has his own distinctive way of recognizing people for their deeds, giving them a hearty “I see ya” on the air. 

His broadcast partner has a more understated way of thanking people, a more substantive salute.

Mario Impemba, the TV play-by-play voice of the Tigers, on Monday kicked off his second initiative aimed at saluting veterans and active service members of the U.S. military.

“It’s important to recognize the contributions our veterans have made, including those from earlier conflicts,” Impemba said in a release. “During our visits with veterans, I have learned that so many love the Tigers and baseball. This is a great way to give them an opportunity to enjoy a game at the ballpark and let them know how much we appreciate their service.”

In addition to his five-year-old Operation Opening Day, which provides a DVD of the home opener to active members of the Armed Forces, Impemba has added Military Veteran’s Program (or MVP) to help veterans who serviced in earlier eras enjoy home games at Comerica Park.

Starting with Monday’s Memorial Day matinee, and running every Monday home game through the rest of the season, 20 tickets will be distributed to members of local veteran organizations. The package — a gift from Impemba, in conjunction with the Detroit Tigers Foundation, an affiliate of Ilitch Charities — includes a ticket, a ride to the park on the FSD Fan Express, a T-shirt and an autographed photo of Impemba.

“When I made a visit to the VA Hospital a lot of the older veterans talked about how they love to come to games, but they couldn’t afford it,” Impemba told “We don’t think about the older guys as much. The people that came back from Vietnam — they went through a lot and we have to take care of them too.”

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Avisail Garcia breaks open game with bases-loaded triple

Avisail Garcia was expected to spend most of this season racking up hits at Triple-A Toledo, but since the rookie got called up two weeks ago, he’s perfectly fine doing that in Detroit, as well.

He got his first career home run on May 15, and added his first triple on Sunday, a pinch-hit, bases-loaded shot to the gap in left-center field that broke open a 3-1 game in the sixth inning.

“It’s pretty amazing, because that’s the first time I got the feeling like bases loaded and then I hit a triple. … I was thinking triple, triple, run fast, fast, fast,” Garcia said. “That’s what I got. Thank God for that.”

Garcia had been keeping loose by swinging in the cage for a few innings, then was called upon to pinch hit for Don Kelly, when Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire brought in lefty reliever Caleb Thielbar.

The last three-run, pinch-hit triple by a Tigers player was from Rick Leach on Sept. 29, 1981, vs. Baltimore, nearly 10 years before Garcia was born.

“That’s amazing,” he said. “I was on the bench watching the game, and then pinch hit, and then a triple with the bases loaded. That’s amazing.”

Garcia spent 23 games with the Tigers at the end of the 2012 regular season, but didn’t get his first extra-base hit until the American League Championship Series against the New York Yankees, a double that helped break open the series-clinching Game 4.

“He’s young. He’s done OK. He’s hit a home run up here now and got the big extra-base hit today, which he hasn’t really gotten many extra-base hits. But he’s doing fine. He’s doing fine,” manager Jim Leyland said. “Like I said, we’d prefer to have him down there (at Triple-A) getting 500 at-bats because he’s such a great prospect. … He’s got a lot of talent, but he needs to play.”

Scherzer has 38-batter hitless streak snapped

Tigers starter Max Scherzer retired the final 22 batters he faced in his last start, and got the first three he faced Sunday, before walking Justin Morneau to lead off the second inning.

That would start a domino effect that led to a bases-loaded, one-out situation, following a walk to Ryan Doumit, and double-play miscue that could have cost Scherzer a chance to get out of the inning with no harm. Ramon Santiago dropped the ball, trying to transfer it from glove to hand, after the feed from Omar Infante.

Scherzer got Aaron Hicks to fly out to shallow center field, though, and struck out Pedro Florimon looking to strand the bases loaded. It cost nothing on the scoreboard, but did add eight high-stress pitches on to the total for a 27-pitch inning.

While Scherzer wouldn’t be able to claim a streak 27 straight batters retired — a “hidden perfect game,” as it’s called — he would be able to point at nine consecutive hitless innings.

He’d finally give up a hit — ending a streak of 11 hitless innings, 38 straight batters faced — to Chris Parmelee with two outs in the fourth.

His streak of shutout innings ended in the fifth inning Sunday, when Florimon doubled and scored on Jamey Carroll's RBI single.

I think I have a social (media) disorder ...

Since I myself have problems keeping track of all the social media platforms I employ regularly (or at least semi-regularly in some cases), here's a compilation:

Twitter: @matthewbmowery
Linkedin: Matt Mowery
Google+: Matthew Mowery

I'm sure I'll think of more ... but this is a partial list.

Tigers need to see more stomping from Phil Coke

DETROIT — Phil Coke returned from the disabled list more than two weeks ago.

But the Tigers still need him to come back in more ways that just his physical presence.

They need him to be back to his nasty self against left-handed hitters, back to a guy that can be trusted in late-inning situations, like he was in the postseason last year, and as he has been since they acquired him.

“We need him. He’s important to us. If we’re going to be good, he has to be good. At the end of the day, in the grand scheme of things, he’s going to have to be good for us,” manager Jim Leyland said Sunday morning.

“He’s a key component.”

But does that just mean in a lefty specialist role, or against all hitters? That’s a valid question, considering right-handed batters are hitting .345, slugging .586 against Coke this season, well above their career rate (.301/.439) against the lefty.

“That includes: be good for us. I don’t care if they’re ambidextrous. I don’t give a (crap) how they hit,” Leyland said.

Coke entered Saturday’s game in a perfect spot, facing a pair of lefties in the eighth — Justin Morneau and Chris Parmelee — sandwiched around right-handed rookie Chris Colabello, who had a total of one career big-league hit.

He got Morneau to fly out, then struck out both Colabello and Parmelee, and stomped off the mound — the exit he usually makes, if things are going well.

“He did all right. He made one bad pitch that they flied out on, but he did pretty good,” Leyland said. “It was a pretty good situation for us, and I thought he responded pretty well. We gotta get him going. He’s important for us. ....

“We need to get him out there a little more often, and that’s my job. But that’s the thing when you got three lefties in the bullpen, it’s hard to keep three lefties going all the time, if your starters are going pretty good.”

Leyland has had to get innings for Coke, along with fellow lefties Drew Smyly and Darin Downs. And Coke has only pitched in five games since his return from the disabled list on May 11.

“In fairness to him, I gotta get him out there a little more to keep him sharp. That’s been my fault. Not his fault. My fault,” said Leyland, admitting that Coke regaining command of his breaking ball is still a work in progress. “I think that he’s gotta complete the mission. I think he throws two good ones, and then has a tendency once in a while to throw one that’s not quite as good.

“When he completes the mission, he’s really good. And he is really good.”

Friday, May 24, 2013

Leyland gambles with pinch-running for VMart early

DETROIT — The minute last season ended, and he began to prioritize this season’s challenges, Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland knew that there would be one on the list for sure.

He knew they’d need to have someone on the squad that, in key situations, could pinch run for Victor Martinez. No disrespect intended, but the designated hitter — never a speed merchant, anyway — was coming off an entire season lost to a knee injury.

“There’s one thing you know you’re going to need next year: Somebody that can pinch run. And I don’t mean that sarcastically at all. I’m talking very common sense. Because I’m thinking like a manager. You’re going to have to run for Victor. You know that. And I don’t mean that disrespectful. That’s just common sense,” Leyland said the day he re-signed with the team, two days after the World Series.

“Hopefully, we can be a little bit more athletic, and the extra position guys, something like that. But somebody’s — you’re going to need some flexibility. ... Sometimes we’re not the easiest team to coach third for.”

It does make it more difficult when the middle of your order — the guys you’re depending on to make the rallies go in crunch time — are not the fleetest afoot.

Sometimes, that means you need to gamble on taking one of them out, if you think he might not be able to make a baserunning play in a key situation.

That’s exactly the decision Leyland had to make in Thursday night's come-from-behind, 7-6 win over the Minnesotay Twins. He had to make the call when Martinez ended up on third in the seventh inning, representing the go-ahead run. Jhonny Peralta, who’d just doubled in the game-tying run, was on second.

Leyland wanted to make sure that the run had every chance to score, so he pulled Martinez in favor of pinch runner Don Kelly.

“Last night was an interesting call for me, and one I hate. I would not have run for Victor, if he’d have just been at second base. But when he got to third, I felt like I had to do it. If (Matt) Tuiasosopo hits a fly ball, and I can’t tag him and score him, I’d kick myself in the (butt),” Leyland said.

“I don’t like to do that, run, until the eighth inning. Because I knew that Victor could possibly come back up again. But I just felt like, if he hits a sac fly, and I don’t score him, because he can’t run good enough — and I know that if I get that run, I’ve got (set-up man Joaquin) Benoit (ready to go for the eighth), I’m saying that’s a pretty good situation.

“But I don’t like to run too quick, to be honest with you. I like Victor’s bat in there.”

It became a moot point, as Tuiasosopo was hit on the hand, loading the bases, but the Tigers left them that way, when Brayan Pena and Andy Dirks both flew out in foul territory, ending the inning.

Would it have mattered if a different batter had been at the plate, other than Tuiasosopo?

Not really.

“Well, it wouldn’t have mattered who it was, because — OK, supposing it was Santiago. I might want to squeeze with Santiago. And Victor might not make it. Please don’t write it like I’m being critical, because I’m not. I’m just making a point,” Leyland said. “In fact, we were going on contact on that play, with Kelly, because we were taking a chance they’d bobble that ball, or maybe they’ll miss-throw it or something, because you still have the same situation. Instead of second and third, it would have been first and third, if he gets thrown out at home. A hit still scores the go-ahead run.

“But I don’t like to do that. I don’t like to run too soon. You try to figure out when you’ve got that guy coming around again.”

Martinez’s No. 5 spot in the order did come around again, in the next inning, further complicating Leyland’s decision to sacrifice bunt the potential go-ahead run into scoring position.

That, too, became a moot point, when Prince Fielder delivered what ended up as the game-winning hit, singling back through the middle to make it 7-6.

Would Leyland pinch run for the other two in the middle of the Tigers’ order, if the situation arose?


“I’m not running for Prince Fielder or Miguel Cabrera. I’m not running for them. I ain’t doing it. Maybe you should, maybe you shouldn’t. But I ain’t doing it,” the manager said. “I’m keeping those (two) in there, all the time. If we don’t make it, we don’t make it. But I’m not doing it. I ain’t running for them.”

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Tigers skip packing, head home early

DETROIT — No matter how far apart the cities in question, whenever a getaway game goes over its normal time slot — for whatever reason — it makes it hairy for a Major League Baseball team to get to its next stop without sacrificing a great deal of sleep.

When the Tigers’ series finale against Cleveland — which started at 7 p.m. Wednesday — ended at 12:30 a.m. Thursday, thanks to two rain delays totaling nearly two hours, it was likely to make a short night for all the Tigers personnel, as they headed home for a six-game homestand.

Until someone else sacrificed a bit.

“The postgame hero last night was Jim Schmakel. He drove the truck back so we wouldn’t have to take all that time to load the plane, so we could get back (quicker),” manager Jim Leyland said. “From the time we left (Progressive Field) to the time we got home was about 43 minutes.”

The Tigers’ clubhouse manager for the last 36 years, Schmakel simply aimed the equipment-laden truck toward Detroit, rather than toward Cleveland’s Hopkins International Airport, saving the players the 45-minute wait while the equipment was loaded on their plane.

An hour and 45 minutes after the last pitch of the game, around 2:15 a.m., the Tigers landed in Detroit.

Does that extra little bit of rest help?

“Yeah. I got up, did my laundry, did my wash,” Leyland said. “Felt pretty good. Ready to go.”

Leyland was sweating decision to allow JV to return after rain delay

DETROIT — It was chilly and rainy out in Cleveland Wednesday night, but Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland was sweating bullets.

Ace Justin Verlander was begging to go back out to finish the fifth inning, to get the series finale to the status of a complete game, and qualify for a win.

But the longer the rain delay stretched on, the less likely Leyland was going to let him go back out and resume pitching, risking injury, especially since he was already at 100 pitches.

Usually, one hour is the line the skipper draws for his pitcher.

“It was right on the fence, you know, an hour. Ended up being an hour and two minutes, I think,” Leyland said Thursday afternoon.

“But you know what? Like I said, in reality I think everybody missed the point — probably including him. It wasn’t that I was concerned about who was going to get the win. You’re concerned about the health of the pitcher.”

The official delay was 62 minutes, plenty of time for a pitcher to stiffen up.

With relievers Drew Smyly and Luke Putkonen both warming up in the bullpen, though, Leyland allowed Verlander to take the mound again, and get Mark Reynolds to ground out and Ryan Raburn to strike out. Verlander, who threw 10 pitches after the resumption, would end up getting the win, his fifth.

It worked out, but it still had Leyland sweating.

“I sweat those things, believe me. I’m sensitive to that stuff. I’m going to be long gone, but this guy’s got seven more years here — with a lot of money invested in him,” said Leyland, cognizant of the fact that the Tigers don’t want anything to happen to any of their pitchers, let alone the one in whom they have a $180 million investment.

“I mean, we can all talk the way you want to, but there’s a lot at stake here.

“People just (say), ‘He did the right thing.’ Yeah, well, if he’d have got hurt, there’d be people saying I did the wrong thing.

“I took a little chance, about a two-minute chance. And fortunately it worked out.”

Some small part of the decision to grant the extension was admittedly a loyalty factor, given how long the two — pitcher and manager — have worked together.

“I will say this: There are some things, when a guy’s been with you since 2006, and has been a horse — it’s not favoritism or anything, but he does get the benefit of the doubt on a situation, in my opinion. That’s just the way it is. People can disagree with that, or not. I think, when a guy’s gone out there like he has, and taken the ball — and not like I wouldn’t have done the same thing for Rick Porcello, or anybody else ...” Leyland said.

“My only concern was injury. My concern wasn’t whether they were going to come back and beat us, or maybe he doesn’t have it tonight, or he’s struggling a little bit, maybe somebody else would be better — that had nothing to do with it.

“I was sweating out — I mean, when I saw him come in today, I felt better. Especially when he was smiling and kinda laughing. I felt a whole lot better, trust me.

“A lot of people say ‘Oh, well that’s not a big deal.’ Well, like I said, like you guys’ job, it’s no different than mine: If you’re sitting in that chair, it’s a little different than when you’re not sitting in that chair. ...

“But we got through it.”

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Tigers to wear camouflage gear on Memorial Day

Call it a money grab, if you'd like — after all, most alternate jerseys and hats for sports leagues end up being just that — but at least it's for a cause.

The Detroit Tigers, along with the rest of Major League Baseball, will be sporting Marine Corps style camouflage-themed hats and jerseys in honor of Memorial Day on Monday, May 27, and they unveiled what the gear looks like on Wednesday. They'll probably sell a lot of them, too.

The twist is that MLB donates 100 percent of the net proceeds from the sale of the special gear to its Welcome Back Veterans program, a five-year-old initiative designed to help fund university hospitals that provide treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injuries (TBI). The University of Michigan has one such program that receives funding from the project.

In addition to the special gear — which can be worn on other days that individual franchises honor veterans — MLB fans be asked to participate in a pregame moment of silence to honor returning vets, as well as join the National Moment of Remembrance at 3 p.m.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Putkonen to be recalled from Toledo to rejoin depleted, battered bullpen

DETROIT — Considering the dearth of guys who fit the description in the Detroit Tigers’ bullpen at the moment, it seemed almost criminal that a guy who’d proven he could be a big-league pitcher wasn’t part of the equation.

That will be remedied Tuesday, when the Tigers will recall Luke Putkonen from Triple-A Toledo. He’ll fill the spot vacated Sunday when they optioned right-hander Evan Reed down after the national TV loss to the Rangers.

In fact, Reed’s spot probably already should have been Putkonen’s, if not for a roster rule that states a player (barring an injury replacement) must remain in the minors for 10 days before being recalled.

Putkonen was sent down on May 11, meaning he was unavailable to be recalled when the Tigers sent Al Alburquerque down on May 16, forcing the organization to bring up Reed instead.

He might not have gone down at all, had his spot not been needed to bring back veteran Phil Coke from the disabled list.

“It’s unfortunate that when something like this happens, somebody’s got to go down,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said at the time — his typical line in that situation, but with a little more explanation and emphasis this time.

“Putkonen did a terrific job for us in Houston. I think Putkonen’s a big-league pitcher right now, and I told him that. He’s a big-league pitcher that’s going to be pitching in the minor leagues. But don’t take anything for granted, go down and work hard, because he made a good impression here.”

Putkonen started Friday’s game for the Mud Hens against the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Railriders, and pitched four innings. By Tuesday, he’d have three days rest, so he’d be fully available by Wednesday at the latest.

And the Detroit bullpen can use him.

Despite a starting staff that had racked up the fourth-most innings in the American League, the pen was overworked in the four-game series against Texas by the starters’ inability to carry their share of the load. With the starters going just 15 2/3 combined innings (Rick Porcello went 5 2/3, Doug Fister 4 2/3, and Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez just 2 2/3 each), the bullpen had to suck up 17 1/3 innings of work in four days.

The bullpen gave up a total of nine earned runs on 20 hits in the series, but the vast majority of that (six runs, nine hits) came Sunday, when the unit was gassed.

How did it get there?

Saturday, Coke and Drew Smyly combined to allow one run on four hits in 5 1/3 innings.

Friday, four relieves combined for 3 1/3 shutout innings, allowing just three hits to preserve a 2-1 win, the team’s only victory in the series.

Thursday, Reed and Darin Downs gave up two earned runs on four hits in 5 1/3 innings of relief after Verlander’s early implosion.

It doesn’t help that there are several pieces that Leyland hasn’t found places for in the puzzle.

That’s in part because guys like Alburquerque, Brayan Villarreal, Bruce Rondon and Octavio Dotel — all of whom were expected to carry the load of middle relief — are all missing at the moment. Dotel is nursing elbow inflammation, and is not expected back anytime soon.

The other three are all working out control issues at Toledo.

That puts more of an onus on guys like Putkonen, Jose Ortega and Reed — none of whom were in the team’s immediate plans this spring — to pick up the slack.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

'Catfish' making the Tigers' lineup dangerous from the bottom up

DETROIT — After facing the Detroit Tigers 10 days ago, Washington Nationals starter Jordan Zimmermann expressed that every opposing pitcher would ideally like to do — and, at the same time, knows is a nearly impossible task.

“They have one of the best lineups in baseball. You have to be careful with every one of their hitters,” said Zimmermann, the Nats’ best pitcher this season, lamenting the hit by Miguel Cabrera that shot through the hole, accounting for the Tigers’ only run in a 3-1 loss, snapping his own personal 20-inning scoreless streak.

“The plan tonight was not to let (Prince) Fielder and Cabrera beat me and he got that ball through the hole. He’s a great hitter and you’re going to give up hits like that once in a while.”

Trust me, though — pitchers would much rather take their chances that they can get guys like Jhonny Peralta, Alex Avila, Omar Infante and even designated hitter Victor Martinez out, rather than tempt fate by pitching aggressively to Fielder or Cabrera.

Through the first 40 games of the season, though, most of those bottom-of-the-lineup guys have been holding their own.

That fact is why the Tigers’ offense has been so much better — vastly more balanced, at least — than it was a year ago.

They’ve done well enough that the Tigers went into Saturday night’s game tops in the majors in runs scored (212), hits (407), RBI (208), team batting average (.280), on-base percentage (.348) and second in OPS (on-base plus slugging, .790).

Detroit also has a streak of at least one extra-base hit in 34 straight games, the second-longest active streak in the big leagues.

Sure, a ton of that can be attributed to Cabrera and Fielder, who rank first and fifth respectively, in the big leagues in RBI. Cabrera is leading the planet in hitting (.376), connecting for a sickening .509 (27-for-53) average with runners in scoring position.

No question those two are deadly.

Tigers manager Jim Leyland’s called it the best combination of No. 3 and No. 4 hitters he’s ever managed. Pitcher Max Scherzer went a step further.

“That’s the best 3-4 hitting combination, maybe in the history of the game. You can put some other guys in there — if they’re not better, they’re right there with them,” said Scherzer (5-0), who basked in the offensive support to push his win streak to five games. “It’s just special to watch what they do, every single night. You see them every single day, and they come up with big hits, in clutch situations, and it just shows you how good they are, just how difficult it is to face our lineup.”

But two men cannot do it alone. Nor can three.

That’s what we saw last year, when Fielder, Cabrera and Austin Jackson had sensational years, only to have the Tigers score more than 60 fewer runs than a season prior, at a rate of nearly half a run less per game.

The reason? No support from the bottom of the lineup.

Peralta fell off from his All-Star pace of 2011. So did Avila.

Brennan Boesch was MIA. Delmon Young was no Martinez.

And nobody plugged into the holes in left field and second base produced consistently.

This year, when healthy, Andy Dirks has been contributing in left. Infante’s been there all year at second base, and Peralta seems to have rediscovered his stroke. And Martinez, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, may have more hard-hit balls for outs than anyone in baseball.

Now, as an opposing pitcher, there’s no breather once you get past Fielder, no letdown in the pressure you’re facing.

You have to worry about the bottom of the lineup, almost as much as the top, because those guys can beat you, too.

“It’s a team game. The big guys do it a lot, but they can’t do it every time,” said Dirks, who hit sixth most of the season, before getting the majority of the at-bats in the injured Jackson’s leadoff spot. “Sometimes, you gotta score in the bottom part of the order to win games.”

You can’t take the bottom-feeders, the ‘Catfish’ as Torii Hunter calls them, for granted.

“I’ve been around a long time. You hear about catfish, we call them bottom-feeders. That’s the bottom, they’ve been doing a great job,” Hunter said. “Great job.”

But won’t your big guys carry the team 80 to 90 percent of the time?

“A lot of times they won’t. I say less than that. I’d say about 60 percent, for the big guys. Nobody wants them to beat you. We don’t want them to beat us. They’ll put those guys on and get to the bottom feeders. And they’re the ones that make a big impact. In my career, that’s what I’ve seen. Playoffs, they’re important. In the playoffs, your big guys don’t do nothing, because they’re not going to let you beat them,” Hunter said.

“Those are the guys that are very important, very important. Cuz they’re going to pitch to those guys.”

This year, they’re beating people.

Entering Saturday, Peralta (.319) and Infante (.316) both sat just outside the top 10 in the American League in hitting. They rank just behind the Tigers’ Big Two in slugging, with a combined 22 extra-base hits.

Frequently a slow starter, Peralta was hitting around .260 at this time last year, before finishing the season in a slump, and with a .239 average.

“He’s using all fields a little bit more than normal, even though he’s a pull hitter,” Leyland said. “He’s having a real nice year.”

Infante’s doing better than that, helping the Tigers rank first in the AL in production from the No. 9 spot in the order, with a .299 average, 46 hits, 22 RBI and 16 extra-base hits from the final spot. He’s been doing well enough that he was the best option for Leyland to plug in at the injured Jackson’s leadoff spot against a left-handed pitcher.

It’s a big difference from last year, too, when Infante hit just .257 in 64 games with the Tigers last year after being traded by Miami.

Those two have done well enough that there’s been virtually no time for reserve infielder Ramon Santiago, who has started just eight of the Tigers’ 40 games, and just four this month.

“Yeah, Jhonny and Omar, they’ve been unbelievable. Hitting the ball every day, and coming through with the bottom of the lineup,” said Santiago after he started Tuesday, and contributed an RBI double.

“Skip, what’s he supposed to do? Those guys have been doing the job. I don’t complain about it. I don’t have much AB, but when I have a chance to play, I try to contribute. When those guys are hitting the ball, you gotta keep them in the lineup. ...

“I know I want to play, but sometimes you gotta think about the team. That’s the most important thing.”

It’s been the same thing with Matt Tuiasosopo, who has already almost doubled his career RBI total in just 24 games, and is hitting .375. Same thing with backup catcher Brayan Pena, who has chipped in eight RBI in 12 games played. Don Kelly already has as many home runs (and home-run robbing catches, too) as all of last season.

“Everybody here knows that I’m a big believer in playing everybody and getting everybody out there, and having everybody contribute,” Leyland said.

“One thing about it: When guys don’t play too much, you know for sure they’re really hungry, and they want to be in there, and they’re going to be bearing down and concentrating. Not that the other guys don’t, but when you play every day, it’s not easy to get out there every single day and be at your best. Doesn’t mean you’re not giving your best, but it’s hard to be at your best.”

When the top-of-the-lineup guys aren’t, the Catfish have been there to pick them up.

“You can’t expect Cabrera and Fielder to do it every night,” Leyland said. “On the nights they don’t do it, if the other parts of the order don’t help out, then you probably lose that game. ... Just chip in. ... You don’t have to carry us — just chip in.”

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Alburquerque sent down to Toledo after control issues cost Tigers

DETROIT — Al Alburquerque’s control was putting the Detroit Tigers in bad situations late in games.

Now, it’s put him in Toledo.

The team optioned the flighty right-handed reliever to Triple-A Toledo after Wednesday's loss, and recalled the contract of right-handed reliever Evan Reed on Thursday.

Claimed off waivers from the Marlins at the start of April, Reed was 0-1 with a 3.00 ERA in 21 innings of work at Toledo, striking out 28 and walking seven.

Alburquerque was 0-1 with a 3.14 ERA in 15 appearances for the Tigers, including taking the loss in Wednesday’s series finale with the Houston Astros.

Called upon to get the Tigers out of an eighth-inning jam Wednesday, Alburquerque struck out Houston’s Chris Carter with two on, getting him to chase a pitch out of the zone.

But then he walked J.D. Martinez to start the ninth, forcing manager Jim Leyland to pull him out of the game in favor of lefty Phil Coke, despite Houston’s lineup sporting switch hitters in four of the next five spots.

Coke gave up an RBI double to Carlos Corporan on the first pitch he threw, scoring pinch runner Brandon Barnes from first base.

“By my own admission, I didn’t feel real comfortable doing it, because of the switch-hitters, however you can’t let him walk ‘em. That’s depressing. If I’d have felt like he was going to throw the ball over the plate, or if he’d shown any signs that he was going to throw it over the plate, I’d have obviously left him in. When you’re having trouble, and bouncing the ball, that’s not real comfortable,” Leyland said, admitting it was one of the situations he’d been talking about earlier in the day, where one reliever’s struggles can put the manager in a situation to have to use another reliever he doesn’t want to, or one that might have to be inserted in a disadvantageous situation.

“Their team overall is better against left-handers, and Alburquerque has pretty good numbers against righties and lefties. If he was throwing strikes, obviously I would’ve left him in. But he was too wild today. Just too wild. He was bouncing balls to the guy he struck out. If the guy (Carter) takes that pitch, we might have been in trouble there.

“There was twofold: When you bring Coke, you figure you’re probably going to get strikes. And the pinch runner they bring in is probably going to steal.

“But, yes, that is one of those situations. We need Albie to get us through that inning.”

And he did not.

It was not the first time, either.

Alburquerque was one of the relievers who’d been putting the Tigers in bad situations, even when they were ahead.

Sometimes, you just need a guy to get outs, even if it’s not the highest leverage situations.

“The thing that we gotta get over the hump, is that when you have to bridge that little inning or so, when you have a bigger lead, we have to make sure that the guys who are bridging that inning don’t make you get your other guys up. That’s really important,” Leyland said.

“That’s happened a couple of times, where we tried to bridge it with a bigger lead, but the guy walked a couple of guys — and I’m not indicating anybody in particular, I’m just making a point — that guy walks a couple of guys, and you end up getting somebody up you didn’t want to get up.

“And that’s not good. We gotta get better at that.”

It’s forced the Tigers to use their best relievers — including closer Jose Valverde in Tuesday night’s game — when they might otherwise not have, just to bail out their compadres.

“That’s huge when you got a four- or five-run lead with a couple innings to go, and then sometimes you’ll see — like last night, even though we decided we were going to pitch him (Valverde), you have a guy ready in case you blow a game open sometimes, and you put somebody else in. You gotta be prepared for that,” Leyland said.

“But that guy bridging that gap to give those guys a day off when they need a day off, and should get a day off, that guy has to come in and close down a five-run game, without putting you in jeopardy by walking a couple, or giving up a hit, and ending up with a run in and two guys on. Because then you have to use your other guy anyway.

“Sometimes you just say, ‘What the hell, I’m going to use him anyway. I’m not going to mess around.’ You got a game in hand, you want to win it. You don’t know what tomorrow’s going to bring, for sure.

“That’s why everybody on your pitching staff is really important, because the job’s different. It’s not always a hold or a save or a win. Sometimes, it’s just give us a few outs, without forcing us to get somebody up who we don’t want to get up.”

Leyland recently said that he’d all but eliminated the idea that Alburquerque was a multiple-inning reliever, and Wednesday he was asked if the issue was sitting down in the dugout at the end of one inning, then having to come back out to start a new inning.

“Can’t answer that. He got one out, and went back out, faced a right-hand hitter to start the inning. But he just didn’t throw the ball over the plate. He got the strikeout, but in actuality, the guy swung at a pitch in the dirt. The guy lays off that pitch, he walks that guy,” Leyland said.

“I don’t know. Maybe not getting enough work, or whatever. I don’t know the answer. Right now, he’s struggling a little bit with his control, certainly.”

And that’s why he’s in Toledo, rather than Texas, with the rest of the team.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Leyland was going for baserunners in the ninth inning, rather than power

With the Tigers trailing by two runs in the ninth inning of Wednesday's series finale, and the bottom of the order due up against Astros right-handed reliever Jose Veras, baserunners were the key to starting a potential rally.

For that reason, manager Jim Leyland lifted left fielder Matt Tuiasosopo — who was 3-for-3 in the game — for pinch hitter Don Kelly. Yes, Tuiasosopo is right-handed, and Kelly left-handed, presenting a more advantageous match-up, but it's deeper than that.

"No, I did not (consider letting Tuiasosopo hit). I thought Kelly would be good for that guy, and might be more apt to take a walk. We were taking in that situation. Then hopefully get him and (Brayan) Pena on, and hit (Andy) Dirks for the other kid, for (Avisail) Garcia. I wasn’t going to bunt, I was going to hit. I was going to let Dirks hit," Leyland said.

"If it was just one swing of the bat to win it, or to tie it with one single home run, might be a different case. But in that case, I was looking more to hopefully get a baserunner.

"Pena was taking, Kelly was taking. Pena walked, Omar (Infante) walked."

Veras actually loaded the bases by hitting Torii Hunter on the wrist, but got Miguel Cabrera to fly out to deep right-center field to end the threat. 

Loading up on hitters who would get on base and extend the inning worked, but Cabrera just didn't get quite enough of the ball to get them all in, and the Tigers lost, 7-5.

Jose Valverde doesn't understand the infatuation with his split-finger

DETROIT — Jose Valverde does not understand the infatuation with his split-finger fastball.

He got over his infatuation with it years ago.

Still, it’s the daily question he has to answer.

Where did it go? When is it coming back? How often will he use it?

Wednesday the Tigers’ closer got a bit irked by the continual line of questioning about the supposedly Missing In Action pitch, which he has admittedly thrown infrequently since returning to the team.

“Right now, I don’t need to throw my split-finger every pitch, because I have a lot more pitches,” he tried to patiently explain. “When I play in Arizona, I had to throw my split and my fastball a lot, because I don’t throw sinker. Right now, so far I throw sinker and (four-seam fastball).”

According to Fangraphs’ compilation of PITCHf/x data, he’s thrown the splitter 6.5 percent of the time. Out of 103 pitches thrown in his first seven appearances, only seven have been split-finger fastballs.

Three of them were doozies he uncorked in Tuesday night’s ninth inning, two of them pitches that the Astros’ Chris Carter and Carlos Pena took for called third strikes.

“Last night, he threw a couple splitters, and we were tickled about that. Two of them were pretty darned good, and the other one was just OK. But that’s good,” manager Jim Leyland said.

“On Sunday, against Cleveland, because it was cold, he just couldn’t feel it. Just couldn’t feel it with his fingers, that’s why he didn’t throw it.”

In all the discussions of where, when, why and how soon, that’s been the one common denominator, the one reason given for the lack of usage of the pitch: Cold weather. Psychologically, you tend to shy away from a pitch when you know conditions won’t allow you to throw it properly.

“Once the weather warms up, I don’t think that’ll be a factor. But I think in cold weather, when you don’t get a feel for it, yeah. It’s a tricky pitch to throw. It’s not an easy pitch to throw. And when you split your fingers like you do (to throw it), you don’t really get a good feel for the ball,” Leyland said.

“Hopefully, we’ll get past that.”

Numbers say that Valverde will probably throw it more — but still not a ton.

And certainly not as much as he did once.

His first year in Detroit, Valverde threw the split-finger 52.5 percent of the time, and his four-seam fastball 47.5 percent, according to Fangraphs. In 2011, his usage of the split-finger dropped to 20.1 percent. Last season, it was down to 17.6 percent.

While he doesn’t throw the slider or change-up that he used in his early years, he’s added a sinker (two-seam fastball) to the repertoire the last two seasons.

That was one of the biggest concerns (or at least that’s the way it was interpreted), when the Tigers first thought about re-signing the veteran, despite saying early in the offseason they had no interest in a closer who’d essentially become a one-pitch pitcher.

There was some thought that it might have been a concerted effort by Valverde, who logged more than 200 combined innings over the last three seasons, to try and reduce the stress on his arm by not throwing the splitter as much. He says no.

“Depends on how you throw the split-finger,” he said of the stress the pitch can sometimes add to a pitcher’s arm. “A lot of people throw the split-finger, and it’s more like a forkball. My split is like a sinker.”

There’s also the factor of decreased velocity.

While his four-seam fastball sat around 95 mph during his two seasons with the Astros and his first here in Detroit, it dropped to an average of 93.9 in 2011, and 93.4 in 2012. It’s been at 92.6 so far this season.

Some of that, of course, is due to the lack of a true spring training.

Valverde joined the Tigers on April 23, after several outings in extended spring training and Class A.

The 35-year-old Valverde, though, said he feels fine, physically.

“I think everybody’s different,” he said. “I think I throw all my pitches, sometimes they’re not working like normal. And sometimes it’s working.”

While he’s still the team’s closer, Leyland wants to give Valverde every chance he can in non-save situations to work out some of the bugs that a veteran could normally smooth out in the spring. At the same time, the manager has been very reticent to push Valverde out there too frequently, and do something that might hurt him.

“We think we need to get him in better pitching shape. Not physical shape — he looks good, physically. He’s not too heavy or out of shape physically. ... Valverde’s in good shape, but not probably pitching shape. ... We felt like it’s important to get him out there and pitch him a little bit, get his arm strength up,” Leyland said.

“We think we gotta pitch him a little bit, but at the same time, you don’t want to hurt him. It’s kind of a balance.”

Monday’s appearance came just two days after Valverde blew his first save chance of the season.

“I want to be perfect, but I can’t be perfect,” the closer said, admitting that he set an unattainable standard with his 49-for-49 season in 2011 — but also noting that he did that without employing his split-finger as a primary weapon.

All the blown save did was again send warning bells off for those who haven’t forgotten his poor finish to the 2012 season.

Not necessarily for his manager, though.

“He looks good. He had a borderline pitch to (Cleveland’s Jason) Giambi the other day, 2-2. I’m tickled with him. He’s in good spirits. I think he’s in pretty good physical shape — probably not tip-top pitching shape yet,” Leyland said. “But I’m happy with him.”

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Tigers do drills to avoid collisions like Monday's that cost the Astros Altuve

If you’ve ever been unfortunate enough to be in an auto accident, you know the feeling.

It was one of those plays that you can see coming, in sickening slow motion.

And there’s nothing you can do to stop it.

Chasing a shallow pop fly off the bat of Jhonny Peralta in Monday’s game, Houston second baseman Jose Altuve collided face-first with right fielder Jimmy Paredes.

“You could see it coming. Where I sit there, I’m looking straight at it,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “Just prior to it happening, (bench coach Gene Lamont) said, ‘They’re going to run into each other.’ Sure enough, they did.”

The ball, sandwiched between the two, fell harmlessly to the ground.

“I couldn’t listen to him when he called for the ball," Altuve told “I think we were calling (for it at) the same time. You know, that happens, but I think we’re going to be OK.”

Altuve fell to the ground, too — not so harmlessly, though — going down like a ton of bricks. He lay motionless for a while, before being helped up and off the field.

The Astros’ All-Star second baseman exited the game with a subluxation — or partial dislocation — of the right jaw. While he said afterward he’d probably be OK to play Tuesday, Altuve ended up being placed on the Bereavement List following the death of his grandmother, and will miss between three and seven days.

It’s hardly uncommon for that type of play to happen, but teams try to minimize the chances, anyway.

“We work on that drill in spring training. We call it the pop-up drill. We actually shoot the ball up between the infielders and outfielders, and make them work on that play. We usually tell the outfielders, ‘Take charge, unless ...’ The general rule of thumb on that — and they couldn’t help it on that one, because he was running after it. Normally you see the infielder, and we have it that, if he knows he’s got it, he uses his hands (waves), and yells, and hopefully the center fielder, or whoever it is, hears it,” Leyland said.

“But that was one of those in-between ones that you can’t help. Just one of those freak things that happen now and then.”

Makeup game with KC scheduled as August doubleheader

The Tigers and Royals finally settled on a makeup date for their April 23 rainout, slating it for the first game of a split doubleheader on Friday, Aug. 16. All tickets from the April 23 game will be honored for the 1:08 p.m. start that day, with no ticket exchange necessary, but separate tickets are needed for the 7:08 p.m. nightcap.

The reschedule tacks another game onto what was already a four-game series, giving the two teams a rare five-game set. It comes at the end of a 17-day stretch where the Tigers play every day, and is part of a eight-day homestand.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Tigers will fill in Jackson's CF and leadoff spots by committee

DETROIT — Austin Jackson will not be replaced by one man.

And it definitively won’t be Torii Hunter.

With the Detroit Tigers’ speedy leadoff hitter and center fielder shelved with a strained left hamstring, the team will fill both of his roles by committee.

Minor-league outfielder Avisail Garcia was recalled from Triple-A Toledo to fill the roster spot when Jackson was placed on the 15-day disabled list Monday, a move retroactive to Sunday.

A late-season call-up in 2012 who played primarily against right-handed pitching, the rookie Garcia will get a lot of work in center field — where he’s played just 51 of his 521 career minor-league games — but so will others.

Just not Hunter, the nine-time Gold Glove outfielder, who spent most of his 17 seasons in center field, starting 1,492 games there.

“He (Garcia) is going to play. I’ll put him in center against a right-hander. I’ll play him in center against left-handers. I don’t know how it’s going to work out. It could be (Andy) Dirks, it could be (Don) Kelly. But I’m not going to move Torii over,” manager Jim Leyland said of the process of deciding who’ll replace Jackson in Comerica Park’s spacious center field.

“We’ll have a guy out there who can cover a lot of ground out there. Kelly’s pretty good at covering a lot of ground — not to the extent of Austin Jackson, obviously — and Garcia will cover a LOT of ground when he plays.”

Garcia has the skill set and the speed to play center field, but Leyland didn’t want to throw him out there the first day.

“I didn’t play him tonight, so he can get adjusted to the center field. Brookie (outfield coach Tom Brookens) is going to work him out a little bit. Get him a little comfortable,” Leyland said. “He’s a good outfielder. He can run, he can throw. He’s a nice player. ... If he hits, he’ll be a really, really good major league player.”

Garcia had a chance to make the team out of spring training, but had his bid cut short by a right heel injury that ultimately cost him the first month of the season. After a six-game rehabilitation stint with Class A Lakeland, where he hit .417, Garcia hit .432 in eight games with the Mud Hens, including four hits in six at-bats against left-handed pitching.

“Well, he’s been doing OK. Getting a few infield hits. Good all-around player. That’s what your farm system is for. Every team has these situations, so you deal with it,” Leyland said. “No big deal. You move on.”

Nicknamed “Mini-Miggy” for his resemblance to his countryman Miguel Cabrera, the Venezuelan youngster was ranked the No. 3 prospect in the Detroit farm system by and the second-best (74th overall) by Baseball America.

Dirks was penciled in as the leadoff hitter for both Sunday and Monday’s games, but probably won’t play against left-handers, leaving the leadoff spot open for those days. It could be Garcia who leads off, or Hunter, or maybe No. 9 hitter Omar Infante.

It won’t be the first time that the Tigers have had to figure out how to live without Jackson. He missed 21 games in May and June last season with an abdominal strain.

The Tigers went 8-13 in that stretch, and 8-17 in games last season when Jackson did not play.

In his time in Detroit, the Tigers are 249-192 when Jackson plays, and 15-30 when he does not.

Jackson himself was not able to pinpoint when exactly he initially hurt the hamstring this season, and said it’s been lingering for weeks, and it’s impacted his defense to an extent.

"I never like to say I'm injured but the reality of it is I am," Jackson said. "I've had good days with it, but also bad days. It's been kind of confusing at times. There's been a couple of times I thought it was getting better, and maybe I was too aggressive with it."

Leyland, who said Sunday that it was playable — and Jackson concurred — just wants to make sure it doesn’t linger any longer.

“It’s a Grade 1 (strain), but it’s just one of those you want to make sure it’s right. No sense fooling with it. The way they’ve got to treat it (with ice initially), it’d probably be five, six days for sure. We just want to make sure that it’s done right,” Leyland said.

“So that’s the end of that story.”

Avisail Garcia called up from Triple-A to replace DL-ed Austin Jackson

DETROIT — Mini-Miggy is back in the shadow of the man he so closely resembles.

Miguel Cabrera’s look-alike and countryman, Avisail Garcia, whose bid to make the big-league roster was officially ended by a heel injury at the end of spring training, is back with the Tigers, getting the call-up from Triple-A Toledo on Monday.

He replaces Austin Jackson on the active roster. Jackson was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a pulled right hamstring, the Tigers announced Monday afternoon.

After a six-game rehabilitation stint with Class A Lakeland, where he hit .417, Garcia hit .432 in eight games with the Mud Hens, including four hits in six at-bats against left-handed pitching.

That’s primarily the role he was limited to when he spent 23 regular-season games at the end of 2012, and all of the playoffs with the Tigers. He hit .319 in September, and .261 in 12 postseason games.

Garcia was ranked the No. 3 prospect in the Detroit farm system by and the second best (74th overall) by Baseball America.

Jackson’s DL stint was backdated to Sunday.

Manager Jim Leyland had said that he was just resting Jackson as a precaution.

“Austin’s hamstring is sore,” Leyland said before Sunday’s game, in which Don Kelly started in center field. “And when I say sore, playable, and might be in the game, but it’s a little bit sore. That’s why ... you saw Brookie go out there and talk to him. He can go, but it’s hard for him to really burn into that extra gear. So I’m just giving him a day off for precautionary reasons.”

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Surprised to get bunt sign, Torii Hunter can't lay down key sacrifice

It was not a sign that Torii Hunter had seen too many times in his 17 big league seasons.

Sacrifice bunt.

Come again?

It was not something to Hunter expected to see in the bottom of the ninth inning of Sunday’s series finale against the Cleveland Indians, even though it wasn’t completely out of the blue, given the situation.

With the Tigers’ closer, Jose Valverde, having just blown his first save of the season, leaving the game tied, 3-3, Hunter came to the plate after Andy Dirks singled to lead off the frame. Even worse than the unfamiliar role, the new Tigers outfielder was facing sidearming Indians reliever Joe Smith, making it even more uncomfortable.

“No. I wasn’t expecting it at all. I hadn’t sacrifice bunted in — I don’t know if you guys looked at it, but it might have been about 10 years,” said Hunter, who’s been credited with three sacrifice hits in 17 seasons and 8,039 plate appearances — once each in 1999 and 2001, and once last year. “Then a guy that doesn’t throw the ball right — he’s underhand. So it’s tough.

“But I gotta do my job, I GOTTA do my job. I gotta get that guy over. Anything can happen if you get him over into scoring position.

“I didn’t do my job, and that’s the reason we’re sitting here, thinking about that loss.”

The Tigers failed to score in the inning, and went on to lose, 4-3, in 10 innings.

Hunter tried to get the bunt on the ground, but couldn’t.

After a first-pitch ball from Smith, he fouled off two bunt attempts, putting him in a 1-ball, 2-strike hole. After another ball, Hunter compounded the problem by hitting into a double play.

Smith snared his comebacker, then turned and threw to shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera at the second-base bag to get the force on Dirks. Cabrera, who’d had to reach back for Smith’s throw, was able to relay the throw to first for the double play.

“I’d much rather strike out right there. I was trying to get him over, and I should’ve just swung for the fences or strike out. Keep the inning alive. Double plays are killers, and that’s what I’ve been trying to stay away from,” Hunter said.

“There’s a lot of points in the game we didn’t come through. It’s not one thing, it’s always many.”

Was there any thought to letting Hunter, who obviously isn’t a bunting wizard, swing away?

“No, I did not give any thought to letting him swing away,” manager Jim Leyland said. “He just did not get it down. That happens.”

Once the sign was relayed from Leyland to third-base coach Tom Brookens, and on, then it’s on Hunter to execute. He knew that.

“Yeah, I gotta do my job, no matter if throws underhand, or it’s sinking, or I haven’t bunted in 10 years. DO YOUR FREAKIN’ JOB. And I didn’t do it,” Hunter said. “I’m here to win, so trust me, it wasn’t like I wasn’t trying. I was definitely trying.”

Leyland: Don't make a mountain out of the molehill that was Verlander's bad start

For Tigers manager Jim Leyland, you could make a ton out of Justin Verlander's five-inning struggle against the Indians Saturday night, where he walked in a run for just the third time in his career.

Or you could take it for what it is, and move on.

As he said after the game, he didn't think it was "an alarm."

The message was no different 12 hours later.

"Last night, what I saw is pretty simple: He didn’t command his fastball," Leyland said Sunday morning.

"So when you’re as good as he is, you’ve got some other weapons to go to, to get through the game. That’s what he obviously did.

"His demise last night was lack of command of his fastball. Plain and simple as A, B, C."

Will Verlander watch video of the start, unlike his normal practice? Will he do anything special?

"You always hear conversation when somebody doesn’t do good. You know what I mean? Because he was dropping his arm, or because he was rushing something ..." Leyland said.

"The point is, he just didn’t have a good game. And instead of sitting here, trying to figure out 1,000 different reasons why Justin Verlander didn’t have a good game, just turn the page. He didn’t have a good game. He did not command his fastball. Just as simple as A, B, C. There’s no secrets to it. He did not throw his fastball for strikes.

"He don’t walk guys in. You don’t see him walk a run in very often.

"That simple. He did not have a good game. That’s OK. That’s allowed.

"A lot of times, when a guy swings at a pitch, makes an out, he didn’t do anything wrong. He just made an out."

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Verlander struggles with fastball command. 'It's not an alarm. It happens to everybody'

DETROIT — Big letdown to go from flirting with a no-hitter to flirting with disaster.

It was just not Justin Verlander’s night Saturday, as he had one of his shortest outings in three seasons, and couldn’t harness his fastball to save his life.

“A battle. My fastball control wasn’t there at all,” Verlander said. "I felt like when I needed to make a pitch, my fastball just totally evaded me. ...

“Every time I tried to go arm-side, I would pull back to the middle of the plate. Every time I’d try to go gloveside, I’d pull it off the plate. I realized it pretty quickly and after the second, I really relied on my off-speed stuff. I’d get ahead with my fastball and then a heavy mix of off-speed. I was trying to grind it out and go six innings and try to keep us in the ballgame. Obviously, I was only able to go five.

“It was a battle the whole night for me.”

He still gave the Tigers a chance to win, turning a 4-1 gam over to the bullpen. The offense would rally twice, but come up just short, stranding the potential tying and go-ahead runs on base at the end, falling 7-6.

“Really, I thought, fought tooth-and-nail, right to the end,” manager Jim Leyland said. “Tough game. We put ourselves in a hole a little bit. Other than that, can’t fault anyone for this one. Everybody fought tooth and nail right to the end. Battled their tails off.”

Including Verlander, as much as he could.

It just ... wasn’t there. He had so much trouble spotting the fastball that he went nearly a whole inning without throwing one.

“It happens. It does happen. It’s not something that’s never happened to me before. It usually happens once or twice a year. I’ve got to go into my next bullpen and iron out some things and fine-tune it a little bit and get it back,” Verlander said.

“That’s why I say you never know until you go out there. I thought my bullpen before the game was one of the best I’ve had to date — this year anyway. It just didn’t carry over at all. I was able to tell pretty quickly that my fastball control just wasn’t there.”

How odd a day was it for Verlander?

It was just the third time since 2010 he lasted five innings or fewer — the others were Opening Day this season, and last year’s rain-shortened start in Boston in July.

He hadn’t walked five batters in a game since 2010, and had only done so seven times in his career. Only twice previously had he walked five in five innings or fewer.

He’d only walked in a run twice previously (on Aug. 31, 2007 and Aug. 31, 2012) in his career. He walked Jason Giambi with the bases loaded in the first inning to put the Indians up 2-0.

He threw 35 pitches in the first inning, 27 more in the second. An 11-pitch third inning, followed by a 17-pitch fourth made it a bit more manageable, but Verlander was still done after 110 pitches through five innings.

“He actually got his breaking ball going there halfway decent, but the toll from the first two innings just took so much out as far as his pitch count, that was going to be it,” Leyland said. “I really didn’t think he made any bad pitches, his control just wasn’t good.”

It’s not a new issue. His 26-pitch first inning last start vs. Houston all but eliminated the possibility he’d be able to finish the no-hitter he flirted with. The start before that, it was a 33-pitch second inning vs. Minnesota that put him behind the 8-ball for the rest of the game.

He had innings of 19, 22 and 20 pitches against Kansas City on April 25.

His 28-pitch seventh inning was when he gave up the only two runs he allowed in a 2-0 loss to Seattle on April 18.

There was a 31-pitch fourth inning against Oakland on April 13, and innings of 23 pitches (the two-run second) and 21 pitches vs. the New York Yankees.

Normally, though, Verlander can go into pitch-conservation mode, and get some quicker outs to get the pitch count back in synch.

That wasn’t an option Saturday.

“I was trying hard. It really hurt that my fastball control wasn’t there. A lot of times, when I get my pitch count up early, I’m able to locate some fastballs the next couple of innings, just nice and easy, just ‘here it is, hit it’ on the corners. Get some quick outs. I wasn’t able to do that tonight. Tried to do that, and continued to fall behind a little bit, and really had to work to get each and every out.”

So is it a portent of doom?

Probably not that bad.

“Well, I think what happens is we all get spoiled — all of us. I think any time that you don’t get a real good game out of him, everybody acts like it’s an alarm. It’s not an alarm. That happens to everybody,” Leyland said.

“Those things happen, happen to the best of them, and it happened to the best of them tonight.”

Friday, May 10, 2013

Coke set to come off DL; Putkonen sent down to clear space

DETROIT — It was never supposed to take as long as it did to heal, so it was no surprise that Phil Coke’s stint on the disabled list with a strained groin ended right at the 15-day minimum.

He will be recalled from his rehabilitation assignment with Triple-A Toledo on Saturday, and reinstated to the active roster. He went on the DL on April 26.

Right-hander Luke Putkonen was optioned to Toledo after Friday’s game to make room for him on the roster.

“We got one of our veteran lefties back, and of course these guys (the current opponent, the Cleveland Indians) got a lot of lefties, switch hitters. So that’s a good thing,” said manager Jim Leyland of the move.

Coke was 1-0 after two scoreless outings of an inning each in Toledo, allowing two hits and a walk.

For Putkonen, it’s a tough-luck demotion, especially since it came at the end of his 27th birthday. He was 1-0 with the Tigers, and did not allow a hit or a run in 2 2/3 innings of work over two appearances.

“It’s unfortunate that when something like this happens, somebody’s got to go down,” Leyland said.

“Putkonen did a terrific job for us in Houston. I think Putkonen’s a big-league pitcher right now, and I told him that. He’s a big-league pitcher that’s going to be pitching in the minor leagues. But don’t take anything for granted, go down and work hard, because he made a good impression here.”

Putkonen was 1-0 with a 2.26 ERA in eight appearances with the Mud Hens before his call-up.

Former Tiger Ryan Raburn happy to be having fun at work again

DETROIT — Ryan Raburn understands the feeling of being the butt of jokes.

Truth be told, the self-effacing former Tigers utility man doesn’t mind that much — he’s made a few about himself, as well.

Remember that time he accidentally popped Miguel Olivo’s fly ball over the Comerica Park wall for a home run? Yep. So does Raburn. He referenced it when a TV reporter tried come up with an oddball conspiracy theory about weird bounces at the park during the 2011 American League Championship Series.

“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but weird stuff tends to happen when I’m on the field,” Raburn deadpanned at the time.

For a guy that can laugh at himself, it was no big deal that his new Cleveland Indians teammates were giving him the full razz treatment, as the media gathered around his stall in the visiting locker at Comerica Park on Friday, teasing him about still using his Tigers logo luggage.

Shoot, Raburn’s just happy to be laughing at work again.

“It’s pretty fun. I’ve been here so long, just to come back, kind of excited, a little nervous. I’m anxious to get back out there, see a few of those guys. A little different feeling being over here on the other side,” said Raburn, who admitted he almost took a left turn toward the Tigers clubhouse — where he spent parts of seven big-league seasons — when he came in from the parking garage on Friday, his first time back with his new team.

“I glanced over there a little bit, but this is a new family. Hopefully we can do some great things over here, but like I said, it’s a little different feeling coming back here on the other side.”

Known for his second-half bursts of power with the Tigers, Raburn has had a different sort of start to his season with the Indians. A career .225 first-half hitter (and .295 in the second half), Raburn came into Friday’s game hitting .329 with the Indians, having almost matched his RBI total from all of last season.

“It’s a little different. I’m not used to getting hits this early,” he laughed. “No, it’s been fun. I’m just trying to focus on having great at-bats, and having fun playing the game — I almost forgot how to do that.”

That’s no surprise, considering how poorly his 2012 season went with the Tigers.

After a torrid spring training — when reporters were joking with him about winning the mythical Grapefruit League batting title — Raburn hit just .171 in 66 games with the Tigers in the regular season.

He finished the year on the disabled list, and was released in November.

It was not a lot of fun for him, at all.

“Last year was not very enjoyable. It was tough. Everybody seen how bad it was last year. It just wasn’t real fun to come to the ballpark every day, and deal with it,” admitted Raburn, who watched his struggles sap all of his enjoyment out of the game.

It became like a job.

“Oh, definitely. It was a chore. Every time you come to the ballpark, it’s like ‘Man, alright. What’s going to happen today?’ ” he said. “But I think that’s just part of the game. I forgot how fun this game was, because ... there wasn’t much fun for me last year — even as good as we were playing. There wasn’t many positives coming out on my side.”

He would understand boos from Tigers fans, if he gets into a game this weekend, too.

“You know ... whatever they want to do,” he said. “I had some great memories here, and last year was tough, but whatever they feel like they want to do, that’s their own prerogative, that’s their own choice.”

Tigers manager Jim Leyland placed a lot of the blame on himself for being unable to get Raburn going throughout the year. He said just this week that maybe he should not have placed so many expectations on the career utility man by making him the starting second baseman.

Raburn shrugged off the thought.

“No. There’s different theories, different scenarios. And I ‘preciate him thinking it was his fault. But it’s nobody’s fault,” Raburn said. “I think it’s just the nature of the game. You go through spurts where it seems like nothing goes right for you, and you go through spurts where there’s nothing you can do wrong. I think it was just one of those years where, if it was going to go wrong, it did. Nobody’s to blame. I was the one out there playing, and just didn’t get it done.”

A change of scenery has worked wonders.

He’s not focusing as much on producing, not putting so much pressure on himself.

Based on a ridiculously hot streak earlier this month — when he went 11-for-13 with four homers and nine RBI in a three-game span — you can say it’s working.

“I’ve had some good stretches, but to that extent, no. I mean, it just seemed like nothing I could do was going wrong. ... Probably won’t ever do it again. Who knows?” he said.

But what’s different?

“I think in the past I’ve been so worried about results. This year, I’m just kind of focused on having good at-bats, going out and playing the game, just having fun. Just like when you’re growing up, in high school, Little League,” he said.

“I didn’t really have any expectations when I came over here. I just wanted to come over here and show guys I could still play. Like I said, just have fun, enjoy the game. ... I’m just focusing on enjoying the game, enjoying being around all the guys in the clubhouse. And, right now, it’s been pretty wonderful.”