ARLINGTON -- If Al Alburquerque is going to be ready for a return to the Tigers bullpen coming out the All-Star break, he has just over two weeks left to get ready. He has yet to pitch in a rehab game, but he's getting to the point where a Minor League assignment is in sight.Alburquerque, who is recovering from offseason elbow surgery, threw a 35-pitch simulated game in the indoor cages at the Tigers' Spring Training complex on Wednesday, according to head athletic trainer Kevin Rand. Alburquerque had been scheduled for a live batting-practice session, but heavy rains in Florida from Tropical Storm Debby have forced the Tigers to alter their plans. The Tigers are planning on having Alburquerque pitch live BP shortly. He'll need at least two sessions of that before he's cleared for a rehab assignment. Considering he hasn't pitched in a game since last year's American League Championship Series, it probably won't be a token appearance or two before he's ready to be activated from the disabled list. At this point, though, even a return shortly after the break would be a boon for the Tigers, who have had their late-inning corps pitching a heavy workload in stretches. Detroit doesn't really have a strikeout specialists for tight situations with runners on base, though Brayan Villarreal has stepped up his game in recent weeks.
Harrah staying on to help Tigers' hitters
ARLINGTON -- Add the Tigers to the list of teams using two coaches to work with hitters. It's a trend that has been growing in the big leagues, but it'll be a first for manager Jim Leyland on his staff.Technically, it isn't a new hire. Toby Harrah, the Tigers' organizational hitting instructor, joined the team here in Texas, where he was a three-time All-Star for the Rangers and remains a popular figure. Once the Tigers head to Tampa Bay, however, Harrah is going with them. The plan is for him to stick around with the team off and on for the rest of the season, working with hitting coach Lloyd McClendon. MLive.com reported the move Wednesday evening. "He's just going to kind of tag along up here for a while and just take a look at some guys," manager Jim Leyland said after Wednesday's loss. "We've had so many guys struggling, it's nice to have another helping hand." Scott Miller of CBSSports.com profiled the trend of teams adding coaches for hitting in a story earlier this month. The Braves, Cardinals and Padres reportedly use two hitting coaches, while other teams have added assistants to help out. A large part of the trend involves workload. Between extra hitting in indoor cages, early batting practice for hitters working on adjustments, plus video analysis, the job has evolved and grown. "A lot of teams have gone to that now," Leyland said. "This is really nothing new. I don't know how long Toby's going to be here. I think he'll probably come and go a little bit, but he's going to be around. A lot of teams have done this. I know Tony La Russa did this with the Cardinals. They had two guys over there to kind of help out, because when you get more than one or two guys struggling, it's a pretty big job for one guy." But the addition also coincides with a Tigers offense that, while posting respectable stats among American League clubs, hasn't put up the run totals that were expected once Detroit added Prince Fielder to go with Miguel Cabrera, Delmon Young and a young core. The Tigers scored five runs during their three-game series in Pittsburgh last weekend, and have had other stretches where opposing pitchers shut down the offense and induced hitters to chase pitches out of the strike zone.
Tigers prospect Brantly joins Futures roster
ARLINGTON -- The Tigers will have three prospects in the All-Star Futures Game for the first time, as catcher Rob Brantly was added to the U.S. roster on Wednesday to replace injured Blue Jays backstop Travis d'Arnaud.Brantly will join fellow Tigers prospects Nick Castellanos and Bruce Rondon, both of whom were named to the original rosters for U.S. and World Teams, respectively, last week. While Castellanos and Rondon were just recently promoted from Class A Lakeland to Double-A Erie, Brantly began the year at Erie before earning a promotion to Triple-A Toledo when Alex Avila was injured a few weeks ago. Add up the numbers between the SeaWolves and Mud Hens, and Brantly entered Wednesday with a .300 batting average, 18 doubles, three homers and 29 RBIs in 65 games, good for a .762 OPS. Much of that hitting came in a torrid opening month at Erie, but he has held his own since arriving at Toledo. The 22-year-old Brantly, a third-round pick of the Tigers in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, will be the first Tigers catcher at the Futures Game since Mike Rivera in 2001. The All-Star Futures Game will be held on All-Star Sunday, July 8 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City at 5 p.m. ET.
Boesch battling extended slump
ARLINGTON -- Tigers outfielder Brennan Boesch had his four-hit game against the Cubs at Wrigley Field on June 13, and he had four hits in the 37 at-bats that followed, which is almost as big of a skid as his 2-for-38 stretch before that trip to Cincinnati and Chicago earlier this month.When he was mired in that skid, the Tigers tried some adjustments with him, comparing video from this year to last to find out that he was opening up in his swing too early sometimes. There is no such talk at this point. Boesch has seemingly been caught in between on some at-bats, hesitating to swing and ending up late on some pitches as a result. On other occasions, he has taken strikes. Much like his last slump, though, Boesch's strikeout rate hasn't been abnormally high. Boesch dropped from sixth to eighth in the batting order, with Alex Avila and Jhonny Peralta moving up in Wednesday's finale with the Rangers. That's about the extent of the reaction at this point from the Tigers, who don't have a whole lot of options at their disposal. With Andy Dirks still shelved and not looking like he's on the road to a return anytime before the All-Star break, Boesch is going to continue to get a regular diet of at-bats while he tries to work through it, at least against right-handed pitchers. That said, the Tigers have felt the drop in production, even with Quintin Berry filling the second spot in the order nicely.
Leyland cautiously gets Avila back in lineup
ARLINGTON -- Two days after Tigers catcher Alex Avila was diagnosed with patellar tendinitis in his left knee and manager Jim Leyland was talking about a drop in playing time to rest him, Avila reported a big improvement on Wednesday."He feels the best he's felt in a long time, so I'm playing him," Leyland said. Seemingly, that would be good news. Still, Leyland was cautious. "It is [good], but I've heard it before," Leyland said. "He felt great when he came off the 15-day DL. A couple days later, he didn't feel so good." Thus, at this point, Leyland is going day to day for the most part on whether to play his All-Star backstop. He won't play Friday night at Tampa Bay against Rays lefty David Price, but he could play in Thursday's series opener against righty James Shields. Leyland is still worried about Avila, he admits, as he is about backup Gerald Laird after his hamstring problems a few weeks ago. If he can get to the All-Star break with the two catchers healthy, Leyland will be able to rest a little easier, as his catchers will then have four days to recuperate.
The Tigers agreed to terms with two more selections from this month's First-Year Player Draft. Former Stanford outfielder Jake Stewart, Detroit's ninth-round pick, has agreed to a contract, as has 16th-round selection Josh Turley, a left-handed pitcher out of Baylor. The Tigers also signed former University of South Florida catcher Drew Longley as a non-drafted free agent. Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle visited Leyland before the game and took in batting practice. Carlisle, who coached the Detroit Pistons a decade ago, is a friend of Leyland through mutual friend Tony La Russa. He also chatted with Tigers slugger and Miami Heat fan Miguel Cabrera.