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.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

REPORT: Phil Nevin out as manager of Tigers' Triple-A affiliate

According to John Wagner of the Toledo Blade, the Tigers Triple-A affiliate, the Toledo Mud Hens, announced Saturday night that manager Phil Nevin had been fired, and will not finish out the final two games of the season International League season. 

The former big-leaguer amassed a 192-238 record in three seasons in Toledo.

Gene Roof, the organization's coordinator of baserunning, will be the team's interim manager, Wagner reported, while hitting coach Leon "Bull" Durham and pitching coach A.J. Sager will be with the team for the final two games.

Hitting .232 at the end of June, Victor Martinez honing in on .300 by end of August

DETROIT — If, when Victor Martinez was hitting in the .220s in May, you thought there was some rust on the Detroit Tigers’ designated hitter after his injury-forced year in exile, you were not alone.

If, when Martinez was hitting .221 at the end of April, .228 at the end of May and .232 at the end of June, you thought it was maybe something more serious that rust, you weren’t alone.

There were plenty of folks calling for Victor Martinez to be either taken out of the No. 5 hole in the order, or out of the designated hitter spot.

If you were one of those ... you were wrong.

With a leadoff single in the second inning of Saturday’s game, Martinez is back where he always seems to end up at the end of the season: right at the .300 mark.

“You guys are the idiots that were writing about that. You guys, at the beginning of the year, when he was hitting .220, saying Victor shouldn’t be our DH, and stuff. You guys still writing that article? I think not,” Max Scherzer said with a laugh this week.

“I think we all in here believed. We all saw what Victor did. We knew he was not a .220 hitter. We saw how he was hitting, and you guys were panicking. No one in here once questioned the ability of Victor Martinez. It’s kind of funny now, watching you guys have to flip your stories, and have to write about how good Victor is now. He’s making you eat your words.”

If you doubted, grab some salsa or hot sauce. Or whatever your condiment of choice.

And dig in.

For a guy who was hitting into some abysmal luck early in the season, that luck has changed. You need to look no further than Friday’s two-run “double” — when Cleveland center fielder Michael Bourn lost a lazy fly ball in the lights, and missed it by 40 feet — to see that’s true.

The rest of it is on Martinez, who has continued to grind out at-bats all season long, no matter what his average has looked like.

“He always grinds it out. He’s unbelievable. He’s an unbelievable hitter. He hit another ball hard, and didn’t get anything to show for it. He’s locked in pretty good right now,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.

“He’s a pure hitter. That’s what he is. That’s why we signed him to DH. We think he’s a really good hitter. That’s why we designated him as our hitter. We’re thrilled to have him back, and he’s swinging good now.”

It was a long road back, though, statistically.

From July 9, when he was hitting .249, Martinez would have needed to hit around .370 the rest of the way to make it back to .300 by the very end of the season. Through his first at-bat Saturday, he’d hit .393 in that span, reaching the plateau way ahead of schedule.

First call-ups arrive, in person of Perez, Coke; Castellanos among reported Sunday adds

DETROIT — The Tigers made their first September call-ups a day before the rosters officially expand, bringing infielder Hernan Perez and left-handed reliever Phil Coke back from Toledo to join the big-league club.

To make room, the Tigers optioned right-handed relievers Jeremy Bonderman to Triple-A Toledo and Luke Putkonen to Single-A Lakeland. Both will be recalled to the Tigers upon the conclusion of the the minor league seasons.

“As you’re aware, Aug. 31 is the time at which your potential playoff roster being set by midnight. We don’t anticipate any other moves today,” general manager Dave Dombrowski said, acknowledging there will be more call-ups made Sunday and beyond.

“Yes, we will. We’ll let you know those tomorrow. They do not know yet. ... We pondered a lot of different things and a lot of different situations. I wouldn’t get into specific players. But we think that this is … if we were to say today would be a likely roster, but we still have some flexibility in what we do due to (Luis) Marte being on the disabled list for sure and also potentially (Octavio) Dotel being on the disabled list. So we do have some flexibility there.”

[UPDATE: John Wagner of the Toledo Blade reported that Nick Castellanos, Danny Worth and Evan Reed will join the Tigers on Sunday.]

The early call-up ensures that, without having do to any roster maneuvering, both Coke and Perez will be eligible for any potential playoff roster, should the Tigers make it to the postseason. Anyone on the active roster as of midnight on Aug. 31 is automatically eligible.

There are also exceptions for anyone in the organization, allowing them to be substituted in for anyone on the disabled list as of midnight on Aug. 31. That’s where Marte and Dotel come in.

“Some people, knock on wood, have more people on the disabled list, so they automatically have more flexibility,” Dombrowski said. “We’ve been in that position in the past, also. This year, we haven’t been.”

The Tigers had anticipated that Dotel might be headed back for the stretch drive, but his rehabilitation assignment hit a snag recently. John Wagner of the Toledo Blade reported that Dotel was headed back to Detroit to see doctors here.

“I do not know, because we did, and then yesterday he had some problem with his forearm, and so I’m not really sure where that stands as we talk right now,” Dombrowski said. “We’re still visiting on that situation. If he was healthy, he would have been with us as of Sept. 1, but right now I do not know where that stands.”

Potentially, the Tigers could have an extra slot, if they had decided to promote Toledo starter Casey Crosby — who hasn’t pitched since June — and put him on the big-league DL. “Could we? Yes, we could,” Dombrowski said. “But we’re not.”

Coke was one of the players the Tigers had sent down in recent weeks, with the caveat they’d be back in September. With him, it was a matter of getting a handle on his control a bit.

“Coke went down there, and threw well, which does not surprise us, because his velocity’s been good here. He kept the ball down better there, which is one thing we wanted him to work on,” Dombrowski said. “Part of his problem has been the command aspect of it, and he did a better job of that at Triple-A. Hopefully, he can continue.”

The others who were promised return trips included catcher Bryan Holaday and lefty Jose Alvarez, both of whom are expected back at the conclusion of the Triple-A season. Bonderman — who had to be sent do Toledo, due to a contract technicality — will join them. Putkonen will return a day earlier, after Lakeland’s season ends.

Perez hadn’t been mentioned as a definite to return, but he was certainly no surprise, having spent 21 games with the Tigers, and has hit .301 between Toledo and Double-A Erie this season, swiping 28 bases.

“One thing it does for us, is it gives us some flexibility of someone who can run. And he’s been here before this year, so he’s got some comfort zone. But he runs well. He’s not a burner, but he allows Jim (Leyland) to use him as a pinch runner, with the flexibility of position. He can play second, play short. Move some other people around,” Dombrowski said.

“But he does give us some speed.”

Friday, August 30, 2013

Miguel Cabrera leaves game early for second straight day

DETROIT — Miguel Cabrera might be good enough to play.

But he wasn’t good enough to stay in the game.

For the second straight day, the Tigers’ hobbling slugger exited the game before its conclusion, leaving after just two innings of Friday’s series opener with the Indians.

He left Thursday’s game after five innings, having aggravated his abdominal injury. Same for Friday.

“Believe me, if he can’t play, he won’t play. He’s fine. He’s hurting some,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said before the game. “I checked with him today. He was all smiles. He was ready to go. He’s sore. That’s just the way it is. If he needs a day, he’ll get it. Or two days. Or three days. Whenever it is. Big series, little series, whatever you want to call it.”

Cabrera himself said after Thursday's game he'd be in the lineup Friday. He was, just not for long.

Hunter on Indians series: 'We’re trying to separate from those guys'

DETROIT — It was shaping up to be a really, really bad day at the end of a really bad week for the Detroit Tigers.

They were one out away from being swept in a four-game series at home for the first time in nine years. They had already seen their offensive leader, Miguel Cabrera, hobble off the field, and their Cy Young candidate get knocked out early.

That was before Torii Hunter lofted his two-out, three-run, walk-off home run into the bullpens in left field.

The come-from-behind win — at five runs, their biggest deficit erased this season — left the Tigers (78-56) six games up in the American League Central race.

Which was right where they’d started four days earlier.

When Atlanta finished off a three-game sweep of the second-place Indians (71-62), it pushed Detroit’s cushion to 6 1/2 games.

Meaning the Tigers had come within one out of a demoralizing sweep at the hands of the team they’d beaten in five games in last year’s AL Division Series, and actually GAINED GROUND.

Now, the Indians head to Comerica Park for a three-game set.

“We’ve got Cleveland coming tomorrow. We were fortunate we didn’t get swept ’cause they (the A’s) beat us up good, to their credit. I tip my cap to them, they’re a good team. They came in and they were very hot, very aggressive. I tip my cap to ’em but we got the one game and it was an important game but now we’ve got to zero in on Cleveland coming tomorrow,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said after the game.

“The guys are good, their spirits are good, they’re playing hard. People forget we just won three in a row. We lose three in a row, they think it’s the end of the world. We just won three in a row in New York. It’s hard to win up here. This is a real good team. They are the Western Division champion.

“We did go five games with them in the playoffs. It’s just not that easy.

“They beat us up pretty good. But we hung in there, and we finally got one.”

Worst-case scenario, the Tigers could head into September with just a 3 1/2 game lead, should the Indians put together a sweep.

Best-case, the Tigers could head into the final month with a nearly-insurmountable 9 1/2 game lead, if they sweep the Indians, head-to-head, like they did in the last meeting between the two teams.

Hunter, the author of the walk-off win Thursday, believes there’s some momentum to be taken from that victory.

“I think that kind of gives you a boost, when you get somebody to hit a walk-off home run or walk-off base hit, it carries over,” he said.

“In this series against the Indians, it’s gonna be intense. It’s gonna be intense on both sides. We’re trying to separate from those guys and they’re trying to catch up. So look for some good professional ball this weekend. Don’t miss it. Don’t miss it. It’s gonna be beautiful this weekend. We want a sellout, we want to be loud. I don’t want to hear nobody quiet. I want to hear loud crowds, all right? You hear me?”

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Miggy comes out of game after aggravating injury; 'I'm OK, don't worry. I'll play tomorrow'

DETROIT — Miguel Cabrera’s lingering injury took him out of the lineup in the middle of Thursday’s game, but it won’t keep him out of the lineup, he insists.

“I’m OK. Don't worry,” he said after the Tigers’ 7-6 walk-off win over the A’s. “I'll play tomorrow.”

Cabrera hit a two-out shot to the gap in right-center field in the fifth inning, but could not trot fast enough to beat the relay throw to second base, and was out. He appeared to grab the back of his left leg after his awkward slide (see above), then hobbled to the dugout with one hand on his hip, and did not return to the game.

“You don’t feel very comfortable when you see any of your players look like they might be hurt or in pain. At least I knew what this was, right off the bat. You had a pretty good idea it was probably aggravation of it. But really nothing knew. Not like he made the slide in there, and hurt an ankle, or something like that,” manager Jim Leyland said, admitting that the pain isn’t isolated to his slugger’s midsection.

“Well, I think it all goes hand-in-hand. It’s one of those things that’s up in here, but it just runs down your leg. It’s not like a sciatic nerve, or anything, it’s a muscle. It moved down in the groin one time, then it got tight there. I think it just goes down the leg a little bit. I can’t answer that. That’s what the trainers tell me.”

The official diagnosis was abdominal discomfort. Cabrera is day to day.

Don Kelly, who had started in right field, replaced him at third base.

“I saw him afterwards, he had a big smile,” manager Jim Leyland said. “He wasn’t moving around too good but I think he’ll be OK.”

Cabrera hasn’t been moving around too well for more than a month.

That hasn’t stopped him from starting 125 of 133 possible games so far this season. He’s missed the entirety of seven games since he first got hurt in July.

With exception of the givens, Tigers aren't tipping hand on who might get called up in September

DETROIT — Reinforcements will be coming. Just not in a group, and not right away.

The Tigers have settled on who they plan to call up Sunday, when rosters expand for September, but they aren’t letting on who that might be, just yet.

“No, I think they’ve been settled. But I think the reason we’re not going to have any announcement is because they’re going to be spaced (out),” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said Thursday morning.

“We’re going to bring some guys up. Do we know who they are? Yes, we know who they are. Will we announce anything? No, we’re not going to announce anything, because they’re going to be spaced out.

“There’s some different technicalities involved, but we will have some call-ups as soon as Dave (Dombrowski, the general manager) ... decides to announce it, we will.

“If I had the authority to give you the names, I’d give you the names. But I do not, as of now.”

There are some givens.

Optioned out Wednesday night to allow the Tigers to get reinforcement for an overtaxed bullpen, in the form of Luke Putkonen, the Tigers have said Jose Alvarez will be back at the conclusion of the Triple-A season.

Same for catcher Bryan Holaday, who was sent down to make room for Alex Avila’s return from the concussion disabled list.

Ditto for Phil Coke, who was sent to Toledo on Aug. 21, to allow him to work out his control issues.

Other than that, it’s anyone’s guess.

In any year, Leyland’s not a big fan of bringing up a bunch of call-ups, who will crowd up the locker room.

That’s especially true in a pennant race.

Last year, they called up six, four of whom — Holaday, Ryan Raburn, Don Kelly and Danny Worth — had been with the team for large portions of the regular season.

“Well, it’s no different. In our case, you might have an extra pitcher, to give us a little more versatility in the bullpen,” Leyland said. “You might have an extra player, in our case, because we’ve got to run for Cabrera or something. Nothing sophisticated about it. It is what it is.”

Some of the relievers who could be back, in addition to Alvarez and Putkonen: Jose Ortega, Evan Reed and Darin Downs. Octavio Dotel, who is on an injury rehab assignment, could also be added, whenever he’s ready.

Infielder Hernan Perez is a probable, while Worth is a possible. Both give defensive flexibility.

The team’s top prospect, Nick Castellanos, is a more ticklish situation, since he’d have to be added to the 40-man roster before he could be added to the active roster. The Tigers currently have 39 spots filled, leaving one open, but that would be filled if and when Dotel returns. In that case, the Tigers would have to designate someone for assignment to clear room for Castellanos.

They’ve already lost two players — Quintin Berry and Duane Below — to 40-man roster maneuvers this season.

There’s also the matter of making sure that they could get everyone they want on the playoff roster, should they make it there.

A player is only eligible for postseason play if they’re on the big-league roster prior to Sept. 1, with some exceptions.

One is the rule that allows any player on the 60-day disabled list as of Aug. 31 to be replaced by any other player in the organization at that date, for the purpose of postseason eligibility. The Tigers have one player — Dotel — who could be substituted for in that fashion, and another player — Luis Marte — who could be moved to the 60-day DL to give them another slot.

Unless the Tigers don’t ever recall Dotel, there’s the probability that only one of the September call-ups would be eligible for postseason play.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Verlander announces second veteran initiative, to support mental health of post-9/11 vets

DETROIT — Growing up in a state like Virginia, with its martial tradition, and attending a school like Old Dominion University, with its extensive ties to the U.S. Navy, it’s unsurprising that Justin Verlander developed a deep appreciation for the men and women of the armed forces. 

“Some of my best friends from back there are in the Navy, serve in the Navy,” said the Detroit Tigers star, who already has one program designed to help veterans out, and Wednesday announced another.

“It’s just kind of bred into you. It’s become part of the culture. You just kind of start to live and breathe it, and even if you’re not serving, you respect it.”

Adding to his Verlander’s Victory for Veterans program, the 30-year-old pitcher announced a new program, Wins For Warriors, designed to assist in the support for the mental health of veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts in the Detroit, Richmond and Norfolk, Va., areas

Along with the Detroit Tigers Foundation, an arm of Ilitch Charities, Verlander committed $1 million to the initiative. The funds will be distributed through the national organizations Give An Hour and The Mission Continues.

“Verlander’s gesture today — I mean, unbelievable. That’s good stuff for this organization. I couldn’t be prouder of Justin for what he did today. It’s totally remarkable, commendable,” manager Jim Leyland said. “We’re pretty fortunate here, that we’ve got good people. We’ve got good ownership here, and I think that causes a lot of our people to understand the meaning of giving. And I think we’re pretty good about it.”

While Verlander’s Victory for Veterans is a way for the pitcher to give back to veterans, inviting a group of them to sit in his suite on days he pitches at home, his second project is a more direct way to help fight against some of the problems associated with combat veterans.

“These men and women are taught to be brave and strong, and when they come home, they’re not going to be the first ones to raise their hands and say ‘Hey, I need help.’ So we need to go out there and extend our arm and try to help these men and women,” he said.

“I think the stats show it: one in three post-9/11 veterans need support. That’s a staggering number. And it’s not just the men and women that served, it’s their families as well, that need the help. And, like I said, they’re not going to just throw up their hand and say they need it. So this is kind of a great way to be able to help, like I said, kind of extend your arm and help these men and women.”

Verlander does come from a military family, with a first cousin, Christopher, who has served multiple tours of duty, and a grandfather, Richard, who was a World War II veteran.

“But that’s not the sole reason I’m doing this. Obviously that’s part of it. For me, this is something that I care a lot about, and I’m passionate about, and I want to show that,” he said.

“I can’t say necessarily one person, or one thing. To be honest with you, it’s kind of been just a build-up over the years, especially since I started Verlander’s Victory for Veterans. The feedback I got from that, inside the community, was just tremendous. Many people coming up to me, telling me they appreciated the support for the veterans. Some past veterans who would come up to me, on the street, just in passing and (say), ‘Hey, thank you for what you do.’

“That’s something that means a lot to me.

“This is something that I’m passionate about. I’m in a very fortunate opportunity now, and I feel like I wouldn’t be here, if not for these men and women, so this is my way to give back.” 

Miggy visits 'Intentional Talk,' tweaks JV, Leyland, dances like Shakira

Miguel Cabrera was a guest on the MLB Network TV program "Intentional Talk" on Tuesday, cracking up the hosts, Chris Rose and Kevin Millar.

Among the more salient points:
• Given a choice between Justin Verlander, Prince Fielder and Torii Hunter for "ugliest teammate," Cabrera went with JV. (Verlander, for the record, had called Al Alburquerque the ugliest teammate in his own visit to the show earlier this season.)
• Cabrera has the ugliest feet on the Tigers, thanks to fouling sinkers off his toes for years.
• Miggy did a pretty spot-on Jim Leyland impersonation when asked by the hosts if he's ever smoked a cigarette with his boss.
• He explains (somewhat) the handshake that he and Fielder do after home runs.

If you haven't watched the clip yet, it's a worthwhile nine minutes. Most people don't get to see the "funny Miggy" personality that's often on display in the clubhouse, but doesn't always come across in interviews.

Give it a watch:

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Tigers send five prospects, Lakeland pitching coach Mike Maroth to Arizona Fall League

DETROIT — Five prospects from the Tigers’ system are headed to the Mesa Solar Sox of the Arizona Fall League.

The group includes pitchers Kyle Lobstein, Will Clinard and Corey Knebel, along with second baseman Devon Travis and outfielder Tyler Collins.

A 13th-round pick in the 2012 draft, Travis has carved up minor league pitching this season at two stops in Class A. The diminutive second baseman hit .352 at Low-A West Michigan, then has hit .330 since jumping to High-A Lakeland, combining for 25 doubles and 11 home runs at the two levels.

A sixth-round pick in the 2011 draft, Collins had a good spring as a non-roster invitee to Tigers camp, then has had a decent season at Double-A Erie, hitting for power — 18 home runs, 27 doubles — but just a .240 average.

Acquired in a trade after the Rule 5 draft, Lobstein spent the spring in Tigers camp, then was acquired for good with another trade at the end of the spring, trading catcher Curt Casali for the right to keep the left-handed starter. Lobstein made 27 combined starts between Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo, striking out 142 in 161 2/3 innings pitched, and posting a combined 3.40 ERA.

Clinard and Knebel are both seen as fast-to-rise relief prospects.

A 19th-round pick in the 2012 draft, Clinard has already pitched on four different levels, making his way to Erie at the end of this season. Knebel was the Tigers’ second first-round pick this spring — the competitive balance pick swapped in the trade with Miami that brought Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez — and has dominated at West Michigan, posting an 0.64 ERA and 13 saves, striking out 38 in 28 innings.

Mike Maroth, the former Tiger starter who’s now the pitching coach at Lakeland, will be the Solar Sox’s pitching coach for the AFL season.

Avila recalled from injury rehab assignment at Toledo; Holaday sent down until Sept.

DETROIT — The guest star was more than willing to hand the baton back to the starter.

When the two teammates crossed paths in the Comerica Park training room Tuesday, Victor Martinez and Alex Avila chatted about the former’s two cameo appearances behind the plate last weekend, while the latter was still on the disabled list.

“I told him, ‘Now you know you can still do it.’ He was excited about that. We were talking about some of the licks he took those two games, too,” said Avila, who came off the seven-day concussion disabled list Tuesday, after a 15-day stay.

“He told me, ‘You take care of it the rest of the way. Now that I know that I can do it, I don’t want to do it anymore.’ ”

It’s understandable why someone would not want to take the beating that Avila does. Or any full-time catcher, really. 

[For more on what the future could hold for Alex Avila, CLICK HERE.]

Avila’s been out since Aug. 11, but he originally suffered the concussion three days earlier, in Cleveland. After getting checked out in Detroit, Avila joined his teammates in New York. He played on Aug. 10, then was placed on the DL after experiencing delayed symptoms the next day.

“No, that night, when I got the CT scan (in Cleveland), and it came back normal, that I didn’t have any ... brain damage, I guess. I felt fine. Still had a slight headache, but I felt fine. ... Then, a day later, is when the symptoms started to show up,” said the 26-year-old Avila, who’s now had concussion issues twice in an 11-month span.

“Honestly, I felt it during the game that I played, a little bit. But, being stubborn, I wanted to stay in the game. Didn’t say anything to Kevin (Rand, the head trainer) or anybody. Then the next morning, I felt it a little bit. When I started getting ready for the game, and hitting, then it started to get worse after.

“Then I figured this was something more, something I can’t push through. ...

“That Sunday in New York, hitting in the cage, after a couple rounds, I got to the point where I was like, it’s not another injury that I can play through. I mean, I’ve played through injuries that are a lot more painful, but nothing that could impair your ability to play as much as that.”

Sixteen days — and several rehabilitation starts in Toledo later — Avila feels back to normal. Coming into Tuesday’s start with the Tigers, he had not yet taken a shot off the mask.

“No. First pitch of the game (in Toledo), though, I got one off the arm,” Avila said, showing off the bruise.

It’s not a new problem. Avila always got hit a lot in the minors, although the late movement on the pitches of the staff he now catches probably doesn’t help.

“I mean, I’ve said a million times, I’m sure it has something to do with it. If there was something that I could do that would help, obviously, I would’ve done it,” he said. “There’s not much I could change there.”

He’s gotten a new mask, with a heavier cage, like the one he used to wear when he was a minor leaguer. “It’s bigger, heavier bars. If you get hit in the face, it’ll bend a little you just have to rebend them, or get a new mask,” he said. “There’s a little more give there.”

He’s getting a newly-designed helmet to wear under the mask, too. “It’s definitely a lot bigger and a lot heavier than the helmets I’ve been using. Basically what it is is the batting helmet without the ear flaps,” he said. “They’re making me one, and I’ll probably be wearing that one, as soon as they get it in.”

He won’t reconsider his dislike of wearing a hockey-style helmet, though.

And, even though he’s looked into a mouth guard, he’s not sure he can wear one while catching. “It’s something that I’ve looked into a little bit, but ... the thing is, I can’t even chew gum out there,” he said. “I don’t know about being able to catch or hit with a mouth guard in.”

All the equipment in the world isn’t going to mitigate the fact that Avila will likely get hit again. The hope is that it will merely mitigate the after-effects.

“Well, there’s always going to be risks, no matter what kind of equipment. The equipment is always evolving, is always getting better. I think from when I first started catching in college to now, the equipment is 10 times better. It just keeps getting better. Companies keep finding ways to protect you, but keep it to where you’re still mobile, and you’re still able to be athletic back there,” he said.

“At the same time, I think there’s always going to be risks. You look at the NFL — those helmets are as safe as they’re going to come, but you always see guys still getting concussions. It just comes with the territory, I think.

“Equipment will always evolve, to try to be as safe as possible, but there’s always going to be risk.”

With eight catchers having already used the seven-day concussion DL this season, it’s gotta be a sport-wide concern.

“Guys are definitely more aware. When you see guys going on DL, that’s the bottom line. When I first came into the league, even just five years ago, it was something that was talked about, but not the way it is now,” Avila said. “I think catchers are even more aware, because we make a living behind the plate, and we get hit a lot. So we want to make sure we can not only do that to the best of our ability, but also have a life afterward.”

For Avila, that ‘life after baseball’ includes a wife and a daughter born this spring, huge considerations to take into account.

“It’s been on my mind a lot. When I see pictures of my daughter, when I’m on the road, or something like that, or like when I was with Toledo, or when I had to come out of the first game — I’m not going to lie. It has been on my mind,” Avila said.

“But at the same time, I know that there’s people that care about me, as far as making sure that I am healthy, and that’s one of the reasons why I think we took our time with it, to make sure I was healthy before I came back.

“That’s definitely something I thought about.

That support wasn’t just limited to his family, though.

“Also, too, I had so much support from the fans, it was absolutely incredible. Incredible,” Avila said.

Bryan Holaday was optioned to Toledo to make room for Avila on the active roster, but the club has said he’d be back up in September, when the Triple-A season ends, and will rejoin the team in Boston on Sept. 3.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Enough with the VMart catching saga already; Leyland tiring of daily storyline

DETROIT — Victor Martinez caught two games in the interleague series in New York this weekend, making his first appearances behind the plate in more than two calendar years.

There’s a chance he could do so again when the Tigers finish off the regular season with an interleague matchup against Miami, and possibly in the playoffs, should they be lucky enough to make it all the way to the World Series.

But manager Jim Leyland’s tired of talking about the novelty already.

“I’m not going to get into that. I’m not getting into that. It worked out very well for us, and I thought Victor handled it terrific how he handled it in the press. But I’m not going to get into, now, a big saga about Victor catching,” he said.

“The only thing you might consider in an American League park is if you really felt it would be beneficial to DH (Miguel) Cabrera for a day. Then you might put Victor in there to catch again. But I’m not going to sit here on a daily basis, and talk about Victor catching. He did a great job, didn’t miss a beat.”

Consider the story tabled.

Avila takes step forward in rehab stint, will catch again Monday night

DETROIT — Coming back from delayed concussive symptoms, Alex Avila had a setback after the first time he went out to catch in his rehabilitation start at Triple-A Toledo, experiencing headaches after three innings Thursday, cutting his night short. Avila was able to play virtually the whole game at DH on Saturday, then catch seven innings on Sunday.

That was a step forward.

“He’s catching tonight (Monday night),” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “He did very well yesterday (Sunday), with no after-issues. So we’re going to catch him again for seven innings tonight, and see how that comes out.”

Avila has been on the seven-day concussion disabled list since Aug. 11. He's 1-for-8 with three walks and two strikeouts in three games at Toledo on the current stint.

UPDATE: Avila went 2-for-3 with two walks and a run scored, catching seven innings of Toledo's game at Indianapolis Monday. 

Missing since April, Octavio Dotel getting closer to return to Tigers

DETROIT — Octavio Dotel is closer to pitching in a big-league game than he’s been anytime since April.

The veteran reliever, who has spent most of the season on the disabled list, battling elbow inflammation in his pitching arm, had his injury rehabilitation assignment transferred from Class A Lakeland to Triple-A Toledo on Monday.

“He’s doing OK. Get to see him against a little better competition now,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.

Dotel threw a scoreless inning for the Mud Hens Monday, striking out two batters (both looking), and giving up just a ground-rule double.

Now that the elbow’s healed, Leyland said Dotel’s fastball has been registering between 89-92 mph, slightly below his career average, as well as where he’d been a year ago (92.3 mph).

“Sometimes you can get fooled by — I think he’s been 89, 90, 91, 92 (mph) — sometimes you can get fooled, because when they get to the big-league atmosphere, they have a tendency to find a little extra mileage. I don’t know if that’s the case or not,” Leyland said.

“I think adrenaline is a factor with a guy like Dotel in a big-league scenario. He knows what it’s all about up here.”

Dotel gave up four earned runs in 4 2/3 innings pitched over five appearances for the Flying Tigers, allowing nine hits and striking out two. Five of those hits, and all four earned runs, came in one outing against Dunedin on Aug. 14, but he’s thrown two scoreless innings since then.

The 39-year-old Dotel made 57 regular-season appearances, and three in the playoffs for Detroit a year ago, but appeared in just six games earlier this season, posting a 13.50 ERA before being placed on the disabled list retroactively to April 20.

Since the beginning, Dotel’s been in Lakeland, Fla., the whole time, whether working at the Tigers spring training facility or rehabbing with the Flying Tigers.

“Yeah, I’m sure he’s had enough of TigerTown,” Leyland said.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Herrmann's knuckleball to center field eludes Austin Jackson for game-winning hit

DETROIT — Austin Jackson does not dive for balls in Comerica Park’s spacious center field.

Just won’t do it.

Might not have mattered if he tried late in Thursday’s game, anyway.

Chris Herrmann’s sinking line drive appeared to fool Jackson, who couldn’t quite make a lunging shoestring catch in right-center field, allowing the Twins utilityman to get to second base.

“It looked like it was going straight toward Jackson,” Herrmann said. “I guess the wind took it and it ended up falling in the gap. I’m not sure what happened but I’ll take it. I hit it hard and I’m just fortunate it fell and we got the game-winning RBI.”

It plated the tie-breaking run in a 6-6 game, and ended up as the game-winning hit in a 7-6 Tigers loss.

But it wasn’t as straightforward a catch as it might have appeared.

“It just kind of knuckled off the bat. Tough play,” said pitcher Drew Smyly, who gave up the hit, scoring the runner he’d inherited from Bruce Rondon.

“Looked like it just sailed. Looked like a real freaky — when it first went up, I thought it was just an out, but it just shot that way,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “It’s definitely (a product of) how it came off the bat, but I don’t know if it hit down toward the end of the bat. I’m not sure.”

But the ball definitely took a funky route, fooling everyone.

“When he hit it, I said, ‘Oh, that’s three outs,’ so I started jogging in and then I saw Jackson going like he was drunk. I already knew what happened. I knew what happened right off the bat,” right fielder Torii Hunter said.

“It was ugly. It was so ugly. That ball was nasty. It wasn’t Jackson’s fault. It was the ball’s fault. It was unbelievable. You can’t explain it. People who were watching, they would never know. They’ll say it was a bad route. Those happen to outfielders all the time. You can’t do anything about it. ...

“It happens at least 10 times a year. It happens a lot and you just don’t know it. You might say, ‘Oh, he had a bad route,’ but actually the ball did something in the air.”

Jackson’s case for not diving is that the ball could roll forever in the cavernous center field of Comerica.

He wasn’t expecting to have to on Herrmann’s liner.

“Not at all. I know he hit it pretty good, so I was going to make the play in the gap. The ball just started taking off towards right field more and just down real hard. I think me and Torii both thought it was a ball that we’d be able to get to. It definitely went through the back through the back of my mind (to dive), but when a ball’s hit like that, you don’t see those too often. I think the last thing you want to do in that situation is try to dive for a ball like that and then it gets past you and it turns into something where, instead of holding him at second, he can possibly get to third or maybe home,” Jackson said.

“It’s a ball that, when it was hit, I thought I was going to be to make a play going in the gap. I started running that way and the ball just started going the other way and down real hard. I tried to make a play on it, but if I try to dive in that situation and the ball gets away, he’ll probably easily get to third right there, possibly get in.

“It’s tough to try to make a play on a ball hit like that. You don’t really get those balls too often, so it’s tough when you get them to get a good read on it.”

Bryan Holaday hits his first HR, records first two RBI

DETROIT — The book on Tigers catching prospect Bryan Holaday has always been a good defensive catcher who might hit a little bit.

Thursday, his bat showed up in a big way.

The rookie hit his first career home run in the third inning, a no-doubter into the bullpen in left field. He rounded the bases with a huge grin on his face.

“I was running around the bases, trying to keep it in, but I was struggling toward the end,” he said.

He headed into the dugout, and got a handshake from manager Jim Leyland, but then — as is tradition — was roundly ignored by his teammates.

“We gave him a little bit of the silent treatment when he came back into the dugout,” Leyland said. “That’s kind of a ritual.”

Then his teammates piled on, hugging and high-fiving. Three innings later, he added an run-scoring infield single for his second career RBI.

“All the guys were tickled for him. ... We were thrilled for him. He’s such a good kid. To get his first one, that had to be a big thrill. He had a big smile,” Leyland said. “Not enough money to pay for the smile he had on his face when he came to the dugout, I can tell you that.”

Apparently, Delmon's Brinks truck has been re-routed to Florida

DETROIT — Just a week over two years after Delmon Young landed in Detroit as a surprise waiver-trade acquisition, the reigning American League Championship Series MVP was on the move in August again, this time landing in Double A

Young reportedly is signing a minor-league deal with the Tampa Bay Rays — the team that made him the No. 1 overall pick in the 2003 draft — after being waived by Philadelphia last week.

According to Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, Young opted to start out with the Rays’ Double-A affiliate in Montgomery, Ala., rather than report to the Triple-A club in Durham, N.C., the site of his infamous bat-throwing incident.

Young was a free agent in the offseason, following a season plus with the Tigers, where he hit .268 with 26 home runs and 106 RBI. In 22 postseason games with Detroit, Young hit .280 with a franchise record eight home runs and 15 RBI.

He signed an incentive-laden, one-year, $750,000 contract with the Phillies in the offseason, but was designated for assignment on Aug. 14, after hitting .261 with eight home runs in 80 games in Philadelphia. He was released after refusing assignment to the Phillies Triple-A affiliate, once he'd cleared waivers. 

Torii adds 'clutch-ness' to his 'veteran-ness,' 'experience-ness' and 'age-ness'

DETROIT — In his illustrious career, Torii Hunter has gotten hits off 745 pitchers.

Of his 2,132 hits, coming in to Thursday, 225 of them have put his team in the lead.

He’s come through in the clutch, too, with 594 hits coming in the seventh inning, or later.

But none of those were exactly like the one that he managed to grind out off Twins starter Carlos Correia Wednesday night, working the count, then doubling to the right-center gap to put the Tigers ahead, 2-1.

“Oh, man, Correia was pitching, he was throwing the ball pretty well. He had the cutter, the sinker, everything working and we just couldn’t get anything going. The last inning right there, I just said, get something up and something I can handle and put a good swing on it and I was able to get a pitch I could handle and I got a good swing on it,” Hunter said. “So pumped up, so pumped up.”

According to Elias Sports Bureau, it was the first time in Hunter’s 17-year career he’d had a two-strike, two-out go-ahead hit in the seventh inning or later.

“He’s tough, and I’ve gone on record saying he’s one of the toughest players I’ve ever managed. In big situations, he gets tougher. Doesn’t always mean he’s going to be successful, but he knows how to grind out a tough at-bat against a good pitcher, and I think that’s one of his biggest assets, and that’s probably why he’s been so successful for a long time,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said, noting Hunter just barely got a piece of the 2-2 pitch.

“That was just nasty, and he got a piece of it, barely. He hung in there.”

Hunter fouled off the first two pitches he saw (91 mph fastball, 88 mph slider), then took a close pitch (93 mph fastball) for Ball One. He’d foul off the 2-1 pitch (another fastball), then take a slider, foul off a 90 mph cutter, then finally put Correia’s seventh pitch into play.

“Upset that I fell for the banana in the tailpipe, the little cutter he was trying to get me to chase. But I was able to foul it off. I was like, ‘All right, T,’ I just talked to myself, pumping myself up to get that adrenaline going and I was able to get something going myself,” said Hunter, who was pumping his fists after cruising in to second base.

“I can’t explain to people that don’t really play this game. Anything you play, you play a video game, bowling or anything like that and you go ahead of the guy you’re competing against, you’re gonna be like, ‘Yeah. baby!’ Your adrenaline and your passion’s going to take over. That’s all it was. Nothing special. We went up 2-1, that’s something special. You gotta taunt a little bit.”

The Twins had no problem tipping their hat to their former player.

“Man, I’m glad I never had to face Torii in his prime,” Correia said. “He hasn’t lost much, that’s for sure. That was a great at-bat.”

Told of Correia’s back-handed compliment, the 38-year-old Hunter — who had jokingly said he scored from first “like I’m 26” earlier in the evening — could only laugh, and show mock outrage.

“Did he really say that? Really? Man, that’s tough. I guess I have to take that as a compliment. Go tell him that he’s a great pitcher and not to worry, I’m a better hitter now than in ‘my prime, Back then, I just tried to hit everything deep,” Hunter said. “Now I use my veteran-ness and my experience-ness and my age-ness to do a better job of hitting smarter.”

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

After two straight days of baseball activities, Avila heads out on rehab stint

DETROIT — Making incremental progress toward his return from the seven-day disabled list for concussions, Alex Avila did on-field baseball activities for the second straight day Wednesday.

Everything was fine after Avila participated in Tuesday’s pregame activities, and Wednesday’s session was just reinforcement.

“OK yesterday, so we’re just looking to see if things repeat today, and then a possibility if they do, that we might send him out tomorrow to play a game,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said before Avila went out to try. “I mean, he might catch a game and, we don’t know, get headaches or something. I don’t know. I can’t give you those answers.”

The next step is a rehabilitation assignment with one of the Tigers’ minor league affiliates. After the game, the Tigers said he’d be headed to Triple-A Toledo, with the plan for as many as four games before he returns.

“We haven’t made any determination about how long. We’re talking about playing it by ear. I talked to Alex before the game today, just so you know, and I’ll tell you exactly what I told him. Personally, I think you don’t want to forget that he hasn’t played for 10 days. You’re thrilled to death that he’s healthy, but you still can’t forget that he hasn’t had an at-bat in 10 days, so when we had our conversation, my suggestion was, we’ll play it by ear,” Leyland said, laying out the plan of catching seven innings Thursday and Friday, then DH’ing Saturday, then going back behind the plate Sunday.

“The No. 1 thing is to get him back here healthy. But the next thing is to be productive. He hasn’t seen any pitching for 10 days now. That’s not easy. I’d hate to bring him into New York to face (Matt) Harvey after sitting off for 12 days.”

Unclear who Tigers' 'break glass in case of emergency' catcher is vs. Twins

DETROIT — With Brayan Pena suffering from a sore toe that kept him from finishing Tuesday’s game, and Alex Avila still on the seven-day disabled list for concussions, it thrust Bryan Holaday into the starting lineup for Wednesday’s game.

But who would replace him in the event of an injury, in an emergency?

Good question.

“That would depend on what the game looks like. Pena, probably, in an emergency, but he’s hurting. ... Pena could go in there in an emergency, but he should have a rest,” manager Jim Leyland said before the game.

It’s possible it could be Victor Martinez, who was practicing with the catching gear before the game, in advance of a possible start behind the plate in New York this weekend.

Or it could be Don Kelly, who’s taken his turn behind the plate in a blowout game before, back in 2011.

More than likely, it would just be Pena, though. He’d left the previous game in the ninth inning, after limping to first following a single. His toe was swollen up after he’d fouled a ball off it.

“I feel a lot better. I’ll be ready if the Skipper needs me for anything. But I’m still sore. I feel like the swelling went down. Still getting a lot of ice, a lot of treatment. I spent the entire night last night getting ice and icing and icing. Today the swelling went down a little bit but it’s still sore,” Pena said before the game.

“Oh yeah, every time they got the thumbs up from the doctor, that’s a very positive situation. Just the fact that today I woke up, I could move my toe. I was kind of scared last night because last night I couldn’t even move it. That’s why I couldn’t even land on my toes. I didn’t want to hurt my team, especially in that situation. But today we’re going to go out, we’re going to swing the bat a little bit and we’ll see. But if he needs me tonight I’ll be ready.”

VMart may catch one interleague game at Citi Field this weekend

DETROIT — Victor Martinez’s catching gear still fits.

And he still enjoys wearing it, even if he’s not had chances to dust the protective equipment off in more than two years.

That may change for the veteran, who has started 823 games behind the plate in his career, beginning this weekend.

Martinez was working out before Wednesday’s game in catcher’s gear, and may be used in this weekend’s interleague series with the Mets in that capacity.

“I was contemplating, contemplating only, catching him in a game in New York,” manager Jim Leyland said of the upcoming series, where the Tigers would otherwise lose their No. 5 hitter’s bat, with no designated hitter in use in a National League park.

[UPDATE: Martinez is in the starting lineup at catcher for Friday night's game.]

For Martinez, it’s a willing assignment.

“It’s a position that I came up in the big leagues in. Still enjoy it. Unfortunately, I can’t do it like I used to do it, every day. But it’s always going to be fun,” he said with a smile, admitting he never stored it too far from hand. “No, it was ready. ... It’s always been there.”

Martinez has not caught in a big league game since Aug. 4, 2011, in a game against Texas at Comerica Park. He hurt his knee two days later in Kansas City, and played the rest of that season at DH, before missing all of last season with a separate knee injury. Martinez has started 10 games at first base this season, the only time he’s played in the field in the last two calendar years.

All along, the Tigers have said they probably wouldn’t change course with Martinez, given his age (34) and the wear and tear his knees had taken with nine seasons of catching, even before the recent knee injury issues.

Leyland said the reversal of philosophy has nothing to do with the current injury status of starting catcher Alex Avila (7-day concussion disabled list) and Brayan Pena (toe injury). Pena fouled a ball off his toe in Tuesday’s game, and came out of the game after a ninth-inning single, but said he would be available for Wednesday night’s game in an emergency. Bryan Holaday got the start in his place.

Even though Martinez hasn’t been catching, the skills never left him. And he never left the fraternity of catchers.

“Victor always gives me a lot of advice, he always tell me how much he misses being behind home plate. He’s one of those guys that anyhow you need to put him in the lineup because his bat is so important for us. For him to be available to be in the lineup, it’s going to be a big plus for us. He’s all about winning. It’s all about putting us in a situation where we can go out there and win. If Victor is in the lineup, we do have a big chance always to win,” Pena said.

“He always give me a lot of tips. Ever since spring training, we develop a great relationship. Every time that I got something that I really want to know, I really need to talk, I go to him, I always go to Alex. But if Alex is catching, I talk to him about any situation and he’s always there. He’s been in the big leagues for a long time so he’s a guy who knows what he’s talking about.

Nor did Martinez stop thinking like a catcher.

“I think just to be in charge of everything, that’s the coolest part about that position. ... That helped me a lot as a hitter, just go out there and have the mindset, have an idea of what they’re trying to do to me,” Martinez said. “Like I say, you never rule it out. I’m just happy to be back in the uniform. If they put me out there, I’ll be more than happy to go out there, and try to do my best.”

VIDEO: Tigers demote Phil Coke to Triple-A Toledo; 'I’m not happy, and I don’t know who would be'

The Tigers sent struggling left-hander Phil Coke down to Triple-A Toledo (STORY HERE). He wasn't happy about the demotion, obviously, but he knows it's a chance to get himself right, and be back when the rosters expand on Sept. 1.

Here are his thoughts after the transaction:

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Tigers contemplated using VMart at third base, to allow Miggy to DH

DETROIT — Victor Martinez’s catching days could very well be over.

The Tigers have been reluctant to put the still-recovering former catcher back behind the plate after he missed all last season following knee surgery.

They may not be done experimenting with their primary designated hitter playing in the field, though.

At the worst of Miguel Cabrera's recent injury problems, manager Jim Leyland contemplated using Martinez as a replacement for the hobbled slugger at third base, allowing Cabrera to just hit in Martinez's DH spot.

“We talked about it in Chicago (when Cabrera first got hurt). Gene Lamont and I talked about it one night. In fact, even had Rafael Belliard tell Victor that there’s a slight, slight possibility this might happen,” Leyland said. “Miggy was OK, so there wasn’t ...

“But sometimes you just have to do what you have to do.”

Once the Tigers ascertained that Cabrera could play through the discomfort, and not hurt himself further — and in fact, heal up while playing — it wasn’t really necessary to keep him out of the field, rendering the theoretical Martinez plan moot.

“I think he’s actually getting better. (Head trainer) Kevin Rand, my question to him was — because we worry about it — can this guy get better, with this injury, if he’s playing? Yes. Because if it wouldn’t get better when he’s playing, then we’d DL him to get it right,” Leyland said.

“He’s feeling better. I check with him every day on it. It’s still the stomach issue, still a big factor, but it’s better and it’s is getting better.”

About the only way that Martinez might end up behind the plate at the moment would be in an absolute emergency, should someone get hurt. Martinez could switch from designated hitter to catch in a pinch, if it was imperative.

“You got Victor there, for emergency catcher, but you’re reluctant because then you gotta put the pitcher in that spot to hit,” Leyland admitted.

“I have a plan in place for a couple of things yet, for the end of the season, but can’t get into it because I gotta wait and see how a couple of things play out. I have a thought process.”

Martinez has started 835 games behind the plate in his 11-year career, 255 games at DH and 153 at first base.

Matthew B. Mowery covers the Tigers for Digital First Media. Read his “Out of Left Field” blog at

Nobody expects a Tigers squeeze — kinda like no one expects the Spanish Inquisition

DETROIT — Anticipating a Jim Leyland-managed team employing the squeeze play is kind of like trying to anticipate the arrival of the Spanish Inquisition.

Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.

Leyland dusted off the suicide squeeze bunt early in Saturday’s game against the Kansas City Royals, and it worked flawlessly — even if the guy they called upon to execute wasn’t quite expecting it, either.

Jose Iglesias laid down a perfect bunt in the second inning, bringing in Omar Infante from third, then beating out the throw to boot.

“I don’t use that play very much, but I thought it was a good opportunity — I don’t think it’s a play that you use only in the eight or ninth inning. I think it’s a play you use when you try to get an add-on run,” Leyland said. “It was early in the game, but I thought it was good enough. For one thing, you don’t expect them to be looking for it that early in the game. So we just took a shot with Iglesias that he could get it down.”

They also took a shot he’d be OK with trying.

Iglesias didn’t really expect it, and gave third base coach Tom Brookens a funny look, so he called if off initially.

“To be honest with you, we had it on the play before. But Brookie took it off because of the way he reacted to it. Like it stunned him, too,” Leyland said after the game.

“Brookie took it off, and I put it on the next pitch.”

Once they put it back on, Iglesias was able to execute it.

“To be honest with you, he bunted a tough pitch,” Leyland said. “It was a breaking ball, and he did a helluva job getting that ball into fair territory.”

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Leyland, Pena ejected for fourth-inning dispute over umpire's missed call

DETROIT — A catcher knows.

When Brayan Pena didn’t move on what appeared to the umpiring crew to be a wild pitch, with a runner scampering around the bases, the former minor league catcher in Jim Leyland knew his catcher wouldn’t be standing there, waiting for a new baseball, without good reason.

And he was willing to argue that until ejected from the game.

The umpires were willing to oblige.

Leyland and Pena were both ejected in the fourth inning of Saturday night's game against the Royals for arguing that home plate umpire Mike Muchlinski had missed the call on the foul tip.

“My contention was that I was a catcher. When you don’t block a curveball in the dirt with a man on base, you chase it down. You don’t wait basically for another ball from the umpire,” the Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.

“So I knew that something happened. I assumed it hit the bat, and I didn’t know for 100 percent until I saw the replay, obviously — which is really kind of unfair to the umpires. Like I said, the tip-off to me was, being a former catcher, if you get out and try to block a ball in the dirt, and you don’t block it, and they got a runner on base, you go get it, you don’t just stand there. So, by Pena’s reaction, I knew that it must’ve hit his bat.”

The call in question was whether or not a pitch in the dirt by Tigers starter Doug Fister was tipped by the batter, Alcides Escobar. It skipped away from Pena, who made no effort to retrieve it, thinking it was a foul ball. Replay showed that Escobar did tip it after it hit the dirt.

And the umpires knew it after the game, too.

“That’s really on me because I should’ve seen the ball change directions,” first base umpire Bob Davidson told a pool reporter. “That’s impossible for the plate guy to see because the ball is in the dirt and he’s got the catcher in front of him. The only hope is that you can hear it. For me at first base, I just didn’t see it hit the bat. Really, that’s my fault. It’s my responsibility because I got the view of it. And, I got new contacts and I still couldn’t see it.”

Leyland thought crew chief John Hirschbeck, stationed at second base, probably had the clearest angle, but even he didn’t see anything.

“Obviously, we didn’t see it touch the bat from the bases. Out on the field, we’re 120 feet away,” Hirschbeck said. “We couldn’t tell and Mike Muchlinski, who had the plate, could not tell either.”

Fister ran all the way off the mound to the backstop to collect it, while the baserunner, Chris Getz, went from first to third on the play.

“Until I see a reaction from an umpire or knowing that the ball’s dead, I’m going to keep playing,” Fister said. “That’s something that coaches, or my dad as a little kid always said, ‘Play until the whistle.’ Well, there’s no whistles in baseball, but until an umpire raises his hands up, I’m playing for it. I kind of saw that the umpire was not making any sort of calls, and it was a live ball, so hey ... No matter if it’s right or wrong, we still gotta play and finish it out.”

Pena argued that it was a foul ball, and Leyland came out to argue that Muchlinski should get help from the rest of the umpiring crew.

“When I got ejected, I just went like this (holding up four fingers) to Bob Davidson at first, about three times. Four guys didn’t see it. That was hard for me to believe. I understand getting ejected,” Leyland said. “But that’s a tough call. When it bounced in the dirt is when I think it screwed them up a little. If it wouldn’t have bounced in the dirt, I think they would’ve gotten it right, right away.

“Like I said, that’s an unbelievable tough call.

“They didn’t get it right. I reacted, because something had to happen. It’s ABC. When a catcher — and Pena went down to block it, and it shot this way. Either it hit a big boulder or hit the bat. One of the two.

“But it’s just one of those — it’s a tough one for the umpires.”

Two pitches later, after Escobar's double scored Getz to tie the game at 3-3 — Pena said something to Muchlinski, without turning around, and needed to be restrained by Fister.

“Pena’s ejection I defend a little bit, because he really didn’t turn around on the umpire. He was talking to him. But he didn’t really turn around and make a big deal about it. Maybe Mike was a little quick. But who knows? Maybe a little frustrated as well,” Leyland said.

“I think they truly believed at that point, still, that they got it right. Like I say, I had the luxury of the replay afterward. That makes it a little bit different.”

It's the third ejection of the season for Leyland, and the first for Pena.

“Im sorry to my fans for tonights actions. TO my YOUNGER fans ,DONT YOU EVER LET your EMOTIONS take the best of you. This game is MY PASSION,” Pena tweeted after the game.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Billy Butler doesn't like to talk about his success against Justin Verlander

DETROIT — First rule of “Eat Verlander’s Lunch” club: You don’t talk about the club, even if you’re the president.

Billy Butler, the burly Royals designated hitter who has a higher average vs. the Tigers ace than anyone with more than 30 at-bats, lives by that credo.

“I’m not going to answer any specific questions about Verlander, so just move on from that,” Butler said after the first game of Friday’s doubleheader, when he went

“I just don’t like to talk about personal success against somebody.”

He’s had enough chances.

Friday, he went 2-for-3 with a walk against Verlander, raising his career average to .443 in the head-to-head battle.

It’s not gotten to the point, though, where Verlander feels like he’s out of options on what to throw him.

“No, I mean, I didn’t throw him very good pitches tonight. Obviously he puts good swings on my pitches,” the pitcher admitted. “But here’s a guy with nobody on hits a single, and it’s probably going to take either a single or a double, or three hits to score him. He’s not the fleetest of foot. He’s not going to steal a base. It’s not the end-all, be-all. And most of his hits off have been singles.”

Both the hits Friday were indeed singles, as 20 of his 26 career hits off JV have been. Twelve players — including current teammate Victor Martinez (four) — have hit more home runs off Verlander than Butler’s two, the last of which came in July of 2009.

(At the mention of which Verlander knocked loudly on his wooden locker.)

“He hasn’t really hurt him with longballs, so much,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “Obviously sees him good. I think sometimes it becomes a little bit of a mind game.”

Leyland even lifted Verlander once with Butler on deck late in a game, knowing that the matchup was not going to go well.

But it’s a case of winning the battle vs. winning the war.

Verlander came into Friday’s matchup sporting a 15-3 record and a 2.74 ERA against the Royals, which led all active pitchers with more than

“Obviously, in our career, we’ve had the short end of the stick off him more times than not. We’ve been pretty good off him this year, but there’s been a lot of years where we haven’t been,” said Butler, who was willing to talk about how Verlander threw. “He had his typical stuff, man. ... Our guy on our side just pitched a little bit better. That’s usually tough to do. ... Our pitching staff has been there all year. We won the game today because our guy, Danny Duff, outdueled Justin Verlander. That’s exactly what it was. It was a pitching duel.”

Anything else is club business. Very hush-hush.

Leyland saddened, not shocked at news about Phillies' firing of Charlie Manuel

Charlie Manuel is someone who Jim Leyland has known since his minor league playing days. Once both became big-league managers, they became closer still.

So the Tigers’ skipper was saddened by the news Friday that the Phillies had fired Manuel — who had been the longest-tenured manager in Major League Baseball — after eight years in Philadelphia. Leyland is now the third-longest tenured manager, behind the Angels’ Mike Scioscia and Minnesota’s Ron Gardenhire.

“Well, you know, we’re no different than newscasters or writers, or anything else. Nobody likes to see one of their peers get fired. I didn’t know that. I mean, this comes as a surprise to me. But you’re right, I’m very close to Charlie, and think the world of him. He’s obviously done a great job over there,” Leyland said.

“And it’s just one of those things, a part of our business. It’s too bad, but it’s something that happens. We’re coaches — in our case managers, and we know what that’s all about. I’m sorry for Charlie, but nothing surprises you when it comes to our business.”

Leyland said he would probably eventually reach out to Manuel to express his sympathy.

“Yeah, I’m sure there will be a moment I’ll talk to him. Gene (Lamont) works with him in spring training and everything,” Leyland said. “I don’t know if today would be the day to call him ...I’m sure it’s a hectic time for him right now. Probably let the dust settle before we do anything.”

Tigers success in Friday's twinbill will be indicated by how much they have to use Bonderman

DETROIT — The MVP of Friday’s doubleheader for the Tigers might just be Jeremy Bonderman. Even if he’s not needed.

With the Tigers’ bullpen strapped by the absence of two key late relievers heading into 18 innings or more of baseball against the Royals, using Bonderman judiciously may be the key to the Tigers being able to pull off a sweep.

The longtime Tigers starter, now in his second tour of duty with the team, and now functioning as the squad’s long reliever, may be called upon to piggyback after rookie Jose Alvarez, who is making his fifth career start in the nightcap. Justin Verlander starts the opener.

Using Bonderman right will be big. Not having to use him at all would be even bigger.

“I gotta watch the Bonderman situation, because I got the kid pitching the second game, and I need a long man. That’s why I was panicking last night when Sanchie (Anibal Sanchez) had a bunch of pitches early on,” manager Jim Leyland said. “Because I was just hoping — I am still hoping — to save Bondo. If I need him for Verlander, we’re going to lose the game. I’m hoping to have Bondo for the second game, to pick up the kid, if I need to do that.”

If possible, Leyland would love not to have to use Bonderman in the opener, meaning he needs Verlander to go deep, just like he did Sanchez the night before. After throwing 30 pitches in the first inning, Sanchez settled down, and went 7 1/3 innings, giving Leyland just what he’d asked for.

“Well, if you watched the game last night, you know both managers were trying to milk innings out of their starters, because of the situation,” Leyland said. “Hopefully, he (Verlander) will be good today.

“A complete game wouldn’t piss me off at all.”

Sanchez did what he could to save the bullpen, but the 4-1 score still dictated that Leyland employ two of his top back-end options, using Bruce Rondon to finish off the eighth, then closer Joaquin Benoit to finish the game out.

Now it’s likely neither of those two will be available for Friday’s twinbill.

“I’m not sure I can (use Benoit). I’ll check, but I’m not going to take any chances. Might not be able to use him. Not sure about Rondon, either,” said Leyland, taking no chances with Benoit, who has yet to throw in three straight games this season. “But that’s the way it goes. We had to win a game in Chicago, had to win a game last night. I can’t fool around with stuff like that. You gotta try to win.”

The Tigers (71-49) did win both, including the opener of the five-game series with the Royals. At least splitting Friday’s doubleheader would mean that the Tigers could lose a maximum of one game in the standings to Kansas City over the course of the series.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Leyland finally gets to try out 26th-man, ‘Jim Leyland Rule’ in Friday's twinbill

Manager Jim Leyland was the vocal proponent for the rule to expand rosters by one man — to 26 players — for scheduled day-night doubleheaders, allowing teams the flexibility of adding an emergency pitcher without having to send down someone else to make room. Just common sense.

“Well, I always thought so,” Leyland said Thursday.

As a member of commissioner Bud Selig’s 14-man ‘Blue Ribbon’ committee, the Tigers skipper pushed for the idea, which was at first resisted, then finally went into effect last season.

“The way things are now, it's a nightmare for general managers, because they have to send out guys they don't want to send out,'' Leyland was quoted by ESPN at the time. “And you’re punishing some poor kid who’s doing his job and sending him down just because he has ‘options,’ and you're hurting your team. To me, it’s just common sense to change that.”

The 26th-man rule has even been called the ‘Jim Leyland Rule’ by some since its implementation.

Until this week, though, Leyland’s never had a chance to use it, though.

The Tigers will use it for the first time for Friday’s doubleheader, adding Jose Alvarez to the roster, as the starter for the second game of the twinbill.

It will be Alvarez’s fifth start with the Tigers, in now what’s his third stint with the big-league club this season. The rookie left-hander went 1-2 in four previous starts, filling in for the injured Anibal Sanchez.

Avila not yet cleared for baseball activities, but will get new mask when he returns

DETROIT — When Alex Avila comes back to catch for the Detroit Tigers, encasing him in bubble wrap is not an option, as much as they’d like to.

But there will be some changes made to Avila’s equipment to forestall the very serious problem of concussion symptoms he’s had multiple times in his short big-league career, adding a bit more protection.

“I don’t believe he’s going to the hockey style mask, but he will be wearing a heavier mask than he’s using now. With a little more padding,” said manager Jim Leyland of his fifth-year catcher, who’s currently on the seven-day concussion disabled list, after taking a foul tip off his ear on Aug. 8. “We’ve been kind of nosing around about it.”

Avila was checked out at Comerica Park on Thursday, but will be held out of baseball activities until he’s without concussive symptoms for an entire 24-hour period. He’s not eligible to come off the disabled list until Saturday.

In the interim, the Tigers are looking for new headgear.

“It’s 2013. They can make anything you want. He’s just going to get a little more padding and a heavier bar, I think,” Leyland said.

“The one he has is like a feather. It weighs as much as that water bottle.”

A relative neophyte to the catching position, after starting his on-the-job training for the position before his junior season at Alabama in 2008, Avila doesn’t necessarily have a longstanding attachment to a particular style of mask.

But he said last season that he’d tried the hockey style mask once — borrowing Max St. Pierre’s — but did not like it, since it kept all of the impact from a foul tip inside. He preferred one he’d been wearing, since the lightweight nature allowed it to pop off easily, taking away some of the impetus and momentum of the foul ball.

“It was supposed to have been safer,” Leyland said. “It’s supposed to spin, or something, so you don’t take the (punishment).”

That may not be enough now, though.

Now it looks like they’ll get him one that’s more like the ones that Leyland wore in his own catching days.

“Well, there were different kinds of masks. You had the bar mask, then they had what they call the wire mask. I think both of them were my years, but that’s going back a long way,” Leyland said. “The masks were always heavier.”

As long as it’s more protective, that should help Avila, who’s admitted before that concerns over concussions could cut his career short, especially in his position, where he gets hit so often.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Prince Fielder's off-the-field distraction is an impending divorce

There has been plenty of speculation and commentary about Prince Fielder, and why he's struggled at the plate, and glaringly so, in the second half of this season.

His teammate, Torii Hunter, may have let the cat out of the bag in a radio appearance on the new FM sports station in town, Detroit Sports 105.1, on Monday. Hunter noted that Fielder had something that only his teammates knew "what's really going on."

On Wednesday, the website Larry Brown Sports reported that what's really going on is a divorce between Fielder and his wife of eight years, Chanel. The website's proprietor, Larry Brown, reported that it had been filed on May 28 in Orange County, Fla., where the Fielders live in the offseason.

A search of the Orange County Clerk of Courts website turned up a record of a dissolution of marriage for the two parties, filed on that date. (The file can be seen below.)

That sort of personal-life distraction would mesh with what Hunter hinted at to Detroit Sports 105.1 hosts Ryan Ermanni and Rico Beard, when he joined them for the interview.

"Prince is a strong guy. A lot of people don't know what's going on in his life. This guy's a strong guy," Hunter said on the air. "He's out there every day. He won't come out of the lineup, no matter what's going on off the field or on the field. He's a strong guy. Us as players, we know what's really going on and we appreciate him going out there every day."

Hunter later clarified the rationale behind his comments, saying that he'd heard criticism of Fielder's on-the-field performance, and decided to come to his defense.

"They were talking about Prince and I said, 'Man, you don't know what's going on in that man's life.' ... I hate it when they said, they were talking about, he's not doing his job," Hunter later told reporters in Chicago for the Tigers series there, including Fox Sports Detroit's Dana Wakiji. "So when I got on the air, that's when I said, 'Hey, you don't know what's going on.' So I'm defending my guy."

The criticism of Fielder stemmed mostly from on-the-field stuff, as fans have watched a guy who hit over .300 for the first time in his career in his Detroit debut last year, finishing at .313, slip all the way to .262. He's hitting .245 since the All-Star break, and his slugging (.432) and on-base (.353) percentages are the lowest in any full season. After hitting seven home runs in March and April, he's hit 10 since, and none in the last 19 games. The lone saving grace in his offensive season to date has been his RBI total of 81, which ranks fifth in the American League.

Still, it's not surprising that teammates would jump to the defense of their guy, especially if there are extenuating circumstances. As Hunter illustrated, everyone's got stuff going on in their lives, even ballplayers. 

"That's my teammate, that's my brother in this clubhouse. We're all brothers so we take care of each other. ... That's all I was saying, he's just like everybody else. He's going through some things. I'm going through some things," Hunter said, as reported by Wakiji. "Just because we make money, we're not human anymore? We all got family issues, trust me. But you won't ever see it."

The paperwork from the Fielder case, from the Orange County Clerk of Courts website.