June 16th, 2012

Avila could go on rehab assignment Monday

The timetable on Tigers catcher Alex Avila is picking up, enough that he could be ready to return when he’s eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list Thursday.

A full day of catching work, everything short of game action, has drastically changed the outlook on his strained right hamstring.

“He had a great day today, throwing, running, hitting, catching [Justin] Verlander’s bullpen,” manager Jim Leyland said.

The hitting and running were repeats of what he did Friday. Verlander’s bullpen session was a test for how well he can handle catching duties. Avila said he had no problems in the 25-minute session, which is about as long as Verlander normally throws.

He’ll try to do all the same activities Sunday morning, though he’ll be catching someone else’s side session. If that goes well, Avila said, the plan is for him to join Triple-A Toledo on a rehab assignment when the Mud Hens return home Monday.

Avila would play three games, then be re-evaluated after Wednesday’s game.

Saturday: Tigers vs. Rockies

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Brennan Boesch, RF
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B
  4. Prince Fielder, 1B
  5. Delmon Young, DH
  6. Jhonny Peralta, SS
  7. Ryan Raburn, LF
  8. Gerald Laird, C
  9. Ramon Santiago, 2B

P: Doug Fister

ROCKIES

  1. Dexter Fowler, CF
  2. Marco Scutaro, SS
  3. Carlos Gonzalez, LF
  4. Michael Cuddyer, RF
  5. Jason Giambi, DH
  6. Todd Helton, 1B
  7. Jordan Pacheco, 3B
  8. Wilin Rosario, C
  9. Chris Nelson, 2B

P: Christian Friedrich

No word on a pitch limit for Doug Fister. Joaquin Benoit is available for an inning to close if the Tigers take a lead into the ninth. The other relievers available are Phil Coke, Duane Below, Luis Marte, Thad Weber and Luke Putkonen.

Why Jose Valverde pitched in non-save situation

Jim Leyland knows the numbers with Jose Valverde and non-save situations. He admits that the intensity and focus can waver in some situations. An extra-inning game shouldn’t be one of them.

Between Octavio Dotel’s injury and Casey Crosby’s early exit, Leyland’s options to pitch the 10th inning were Valverde and rookies Luis Marte and Luke Putkonen. He had used Brayan Villarreal, Phil Coke and Joaquin Benoit just to get it that far, and there’s no way he’s going to risk stretching Benoit to a third inning. And with an extra-inning game at home, he wasn’t going to be saving Valverde for a save situation.

“I don’t think the adrenaline’s quite the same,” Leyland said of non-save situations for Valverde, “but obviously, you don’t have any choice. He’s our best option, without question. You try to hold it and give yourself a chance to win in the bottom of the inning. When you’re at home, that’s what you try to do. …

“I don’t do it all the time. I don’t like to do it that much. But if he’s ready to pitch and he’s your best option, I would do it.”

It wasn’t a typical Valverde meltdown. He got ahead of hitters, giving up all three of his hits in two-strike counts. His downfall, really, came down to a lob throw to first on an Eric Young sacrifice bunt, a throw that looked like it was from somebody afraid to overthrow it to first base and somehow turning it into one anyway.

There has been some debate over whether Valverde had a play at second  base, but in real time, it looked like Michael Cuddyer (0-for-8 off Valverde before his leadoff single) was close enough to second that it would’ve taken a pretty impressive, strong-armed play to get him. Had he gotten the sure out at first, he would’ve had first base open to walk Todd Helton, 6-for-10 off Valverde from their days as NL West combatants.

The error changed the situation vastly. It also left the Tigers’ bullpen situation for Saturday looking especially daunting now that Valverde, Benoit and Villarreal are all likely on rest while Doug Fister makes his first start in nearly three weeks.

Crosby, Matt Young optioned to make room for Weber, Fister

Tigers manager Jim Leyland wasn’t sure how rookie left-hander Casey Crosby would react to starting on extended rest. His wild outing Friday night brought a reaction from the Tigers, who optioned him back to Triple-A Toledo for more seasoning.

Outfielder Matt Young was also optioned to Toledo.

The Young move opened the spot the Tigers needed to activate Doug Fister from the 15-day disabled list in time for his scheduled start Saturday afternoon. The Crosby move created room for Thad Weber, who was recalled from the Hens as an extra reliever for the weekend. For Saturday, at least, the Tigers will have to fill innings without closer Jose Valverde, setup man Joaquin Benoit and hard-throwing right-hander Brayan Villarreal.

“We’re really short for tomorrow,” Leyland said after the game. “We’ve got major problems.”

No decision has been made on how the Tigers will proceed with their rotation, team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said, which suggests they weren’t planning this initially. With an off-day Monday, they could go with four starters until next Saturday at Pittsburgh, when they would need a fifth starter the rest of the way to the All-Star break.

Their other injured starter, Drew Smyly, won’t be eligible for come off the DL in time to fill the spot next Saturday.

Crosby took Fister’s rotation spot after he aggravated his left side strain in a Memorial Day start at Boston. His rookie jitters didn’t help in his Major League debut against the Yankees, who hit him for six runs on just four hits in 3 1/3 innings with four walks June 1. He was significant more composed six days later against Cleveland, but his wildness returned Friday night, walking three of the first 12 Rockies he faced.

He recovered from a two-run third inning to enter the fourth with a lead thanks to a Tigers rally, but a two-run homer from Chris Nelson and an ensuing four-pitch walk to Dexter Fowler brought manager Jim Leyland out for the pitching change.

Crosby took a no-decision, giving up four runs on six hits over 3 1/3 innings with four walks and four walks.

“In fairness, he hasn’t done terrible,” Leyland said. “I think if you’re judging it from a professional perspective, he’s not ready. He’s got 93, 94, 95 [mph] in there, but I think he’s a little concerned about being able to throw it over at that velocity. And so, until he can conquer that, I think his bullpen sessions will be important.”

Coincidentally, Jacob Turner gave up a lone earned run over at least six innings for the third straight start Friday night for Triple-A Toledo. He allowed four hits, walked two and struck out six at Norfolk to outduel Jamie Moyer. After going into spring training as arguably the favorite for the open spot in the Tigers rotation that eventually went to Drew Smyly, Turner is making a case for a midseason promotion.

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