DETROIT -- There was no shortage of military presence at Comerica Park on Independence Day, as members of the United States Armed Forces showed up to watch Justin Verlander pitch against the Twins and were honored in various ways.
The Tigers started by donating 1,000 tickets to local military members and veterans so that they could bring their families and enjoy a Fourth of July evening at the ballpark. Several of those were chosen to be honored during the pregame ceremonies.
Col. Philip Sheridan and Adjutant Rolly Lee each threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Capt. Daniel Mercante delivered the game ball to the mound. And Senior Master Sgt. Mark Kaufmann sang the national anthem as a giant flag was spread across the outfield. A fly-over was scheduled, but a long rain delay wiped it out.
Ten thousand hats were also handed out as fans entered through the gates, decorating the crowd in red, white and blue. Both the Tigers and Twins wore special hats as well, with the usual colors replaced by camouflage.
And, of course, no Fourth of July is complete without a fireworks show, which was scheduled to take place on the field following the game.
Jackson has improved with two strikes
DETROIT -- Credit Austin Jackson's independence from the old leg kick in his swing all you want for his arguably All-Star numbers, from a .320 batting average that ranked fifth in the American League and a .934 OPS that ranked among the best for leadoff hitters, to a .354 batting average with runners in scoring position entering Wednesday. But also credit the mental adjustments he's made.
Among the sea shifts in Jackson's stats are his numbers with two strikes. His .187 average in those situations is 35 points higher than last year and six points under his average during his rookie season in 2010. His .572 two-strike OPS is easily the best of his career.
The biggest improvement, though, is how many fewer two-strike situations he has when he's at the plate. With 150 plate appearances in two-strike counts, he's on pace for 300 after back-to-back seasons with 372 two-strike situations. Yet his average of 4.21 pitches per plate appearance this year is the highest of his career.
Jackson entered Wednesday on a 10-game hitting streak, during which he's batting 16-for-43 (.372).
Boesch hopes to build on three-hit game
DETROIT -- It was only one game. But for Brennan Boesch, who hadn't had a multihit game or a home run since June 13 -- and had only one extra-base hit since -- it was big.
More than anything, his three-hit game on Tuesday against Nick Blackburn and the Twins' bullpen was a mindset. Yes, he was facing a starting pitcher whose ERA on the year rose to 8.10, but he also was getting himself out against some pitchers last week.
"I definitely was consciously trying to get a good pitch," Boesch said Tuesday night. "I got those pinch-hit [at-bats Monday], but didn't start. I just wanted to make sure that I wasn't going to give any at-bats away, or at least try not to give any at-bats away, and try to make sure that every at-bat I'm fighting and doing everything I can to try to hit the ball."
Those pitches came in different counts on Tuesday. His two-run single in the second inning came on a 2-0 fastball after Boesch shrugged at a curveball in the dirt and a fastball inside. His fourth-inning home run, by contrast, was a first-pitch fastball.
Boesch hit the first strike he saw in all four at-bats. His sixth-inning single was a 2-0 slider from Jeff Gray. He hit another slider, this one on a 1-0 count after a first-pitch fastball inside, and nearly homered in the ninth inning off Glen Perkins.
When asked if it was an encouraging day, he seemed to agree.
"Anytime you get three hits and a home run, it's momentum to build," he said. "I just missed hitting that last one out, too. [You] can't really enjoy it for too long, but you can bring it into the next day and use it as momentum to try to get some consistency and build off a day like that."
Tigers set to face plenty of left-handers
DETROIT -- Wednesday's game against Twins starter Brian Duensing started a stretch of five consecutive left-handed starters the Tigers will face to close out the week before the All-Star break. That means a busy extended holiday weekend for Ryan Raburn.
He was in the lineup on Wednesday in left field and batted second in place of Quintin Berry, who went 4-for-22 with four walks and an RBI over the previous six games since his three-hit effort at Texas last Wednesday. Rayburn will probably start in place of right fielder Brennan Boesch at least one game at some point this week -- maybe Friday against Royals lefty Jonathan Sanchez, off whom Boesch is 0-for-5 with two strikeouts -- and also will spend some time at second base.
Add in starts on Monday and Tuesday night against Twins righties Liam Hendriks and Nick Blackburn, plus Sunday's series finale at Tampa Bay against Rays righty Alex Cobb, and Raburn has a chance to play in eight straight games. Even when he was a regular earlier this year, he had only one stretch like that, back in early May.
Raburn entered Wednesday batting .183 (11-for-60) against left-handers, compared to .178 (18-for-101) off righties. His struggles off southpaws, as well as Jhonny Peralta's (.215 off lefties), have made a difference for a team with more left-handed hitters in its lineup these days.
Detroit, who used punish left-handed pitchers, entered Wednesday with an 8-13 record off lefties this year.
Anderson Monarchs visit Comerica Park
DETROIT -- The Anderson Monarchs, a group of Little Leaguers from Philadelphia, barnstormed into Comerica Park on Tuesday to watch the Tigers take batting practice prior to their Fourth of July showdown with the Twins.
The group of about 25 children and coaches boarded a 1947-era bus last Friday for a 21-day, 18-city, 4,000-mile journey across the country to pay tribute to Jackie Robinson and the Negro Leagues, where players often traveled city to city in the offseason playing wherever they could get a game and draw a crowd.
"With this being the 65th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking into the Major Leagues and with the All-Star Game being in Kansas City, I just felt like our team -- being the only African-American team in the league or tournaments we play in -- we see Jackie Robinson as an inspiration and as role model," said Monarchs head coach Steve Bandura, who came up with the idea. "This is the perfect time to pay tribute."
The trip began at Robinson's grave site in New York, then visited Yankee Stadium, PNC Park and Progressive Field before making their stop in the Motor City. Several players found time to come over and speak with the kids, including Twins outfielders Denard Span and Ben Revere, and Tigers reliever Phil Coke.
"Curtis Granderson, CC Sabathia and DeWayne Wise came out and talked to the players for a while [in New York]," Bandura said. "In Pittsburgh, Josh Harrison spent some time with the kids, and in Cleveland, a lot of the pitchers and Carlos Santana had the kids in the dugout ... We've met some great people. It's just been tremendous."
They will next venture through Chicago and Iowa, and hope to reach Kansas City by the All-Star Game.
"It will continue to July 23," Bandura said. "We'll go to Chicago, then on to Iowa, Kansas City, St. Louis, Louisville, all the way to [Washington] D.C. and then up to Cooperstown the day after the [Hall of Fame] induction ceremonies."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. Anthony Odoardi is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.