DETROIT -- Throughout this season, the Tigers have tried to find the best way to help Phil Coke regain his dominance from last year's playoffs. The team's newest plan is to send him down to Triple-A Toledo until rosters expand on Sept. 1.
After Tuesday's loss to the Twins, Detroit optioned Coke to Toledo and recalled left-hander Jose Alvarez to fill the void in the bullpen. Coke will still be eligible for the playoff roster.
"I'm not happy. I don't know who would be," Coke said. "I've been in the big leagues for five years and I'm being sent down to work on things, and understandably so. I haven't been doing the job that has been handed to me, per my past performances. I can't fault them for the decision that was made."
After being a part of the Tigers closer-by-committee plan in April, Coke has primarily been used in lefty-versus-lefty situations since the All-Star break. In the first half of the season, Coke had an 0-5 record with a 5.83 ERA in 29 1/3 innings. After moving to a situational role in the second half, he has a 1.35 ERA in 6 2/3 innings while striking out six and walking none.
"I figured it would've happened in the first half, not right now, especially since the velocity's been back," Coke said. "I've gotten a lot of key outs recently. I've been on a decent run, no earned runs. I mean, I've given up three or four inherited [runs]. Sometimes those things happen, but right now it's not something we can afford as a team."
Despite being successful in his new role, Coke wasn't comfortable with it.
"It's not something that I'm really happy about -- no matter what I was doing on the field," Coke said. "Whether I was dominating, if I was out there for one guy, it was really annoying because of being a competitor. I mean, you want to go out there and you want to do everything you can."
The Tigers want Coke to work on his command at Toledo and emphasized that he has been pitching better lately and will be back with the team in two weeks.
"The key is to go down there and really try to accomplish what we're trying to accomplish, by making good pitches," manager Jim Leyland said. "He's going to be back here. He's very much a part of our team. This is an opportunity to go down and see what he does, and also maybe an opportunity to look at Alvarez out of the bullpen and see what he looks like against a left-hander."
Alvarez has made five spot starts for the Tigers this season, but he has struggled the second time through the lineup. At Toledo, lefties were batting .164 against him in 110 at-bats, while he struck out 32 and walked four.
"He's using his changeup a lot against righties and lefties, and he has a plus changeup," catcher Brayan Pena said. "He's a guy who throws a lot of strikes. He's a guy who keeps you in the ballgame. He's a guy who will give you a lot of innings. He can use those offspeed [pitches] against righties and lefties, and I think he's going to be very good for us."
Recovering from concussion, Avila takes BP
DETROIT -- Alex Avila was in for his toughest tests yet on Tuesday after suffering a concussion more than a week ago and passing a battery of tests in accordance with Major League Baseball protocol over the weekend.
Before Tuesday's game against the Twins, Avila took batting practice, did catching drills and threw to bases.
"Alex had a very good day," manager Jim Leyland said. "I talked to [head athletic trainer] Kevin [Rand] about it. We're going to see how he comes in tomorrow. There's a lot of different possibilities. If he is OK, you have to decide are you going to send him out to play a game or so, how you're going to handle that situation. But we haven't come to that point yet."
Leyland has said multiple times that Avila has been hit by more foul tips than any other catcher he's ever seen, and players around the league have noticed the same thing.
"Well, that pitching staff is hard to hit. But yeah, for whatever reason, there's some guys that get more beat up than others," Twins catcher Joe Mauer said. "It's a position where you get beat up anyway, but I know playing against Alex for a few years, he tends to take a pretty good beating back there."
Avila tried to switch to a hockey mask in the past, but found it uncomfortable. Mauer switched the shell of his helmet to a prototype made by Rawlings, which is supposed to limit concussions.
"Like any hitter will tell you when they switch to the new batting helmets, they're heavier, a little more bulky and they kind of slimmed them down," Mauer said. "But it's definitely heavier, I can tell you that. We're still trying to get the safest scenario possible."
Whether the key to preventing concussions is in the shell or mask, catchers are happy to see more options are available.
"That position, catcher, they're a lot more in the line of danger than a hitter," Mauer said. "I would even like to see the umpires get in on that, too. They're back there taking shots and stuff like that. Hopefully, the research they're doing keeps getting better."
Infante returns to lineup for opener vs. Twins
DETROIT -- Omar Infante was back in the Tigers' lineup Tuesday after missing Sunday's game against the Royals due to lower back spasms and a tight left quadriceps.
"Omar's fine," manager Jim Leyland said. "I wasn't sure about that one, but he's fine and ready to go."
Infante said he suffered the injuries while running home from third during a suicide-squeeze play in Saturday's game, in which exited in the seventh inning.
"Just coming from my ankle problems, I think it's coming from that," Infante said on Sunday. "I don't know. It's the first time it's happened to me."
Verlander lauds Kershaw's superb campaign
DETROIT -- Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw is putting up one of the best statistical seasons for a pitcher in recent memory, with a 12-7 record, 1.80 ERA and 182 strikeouts in 190 1/3 innings. His current 0.85 WHIP would be the fourth-lowest mark in the live-ball era.
Those numbers, along with the team's recent winning streaks, have been creating buzz for Kershaw as a National League Most Valuable Player Award candidate. If he were to win the award, Kershawk would become the first pitcher since Tigers starter Justin Verlander won the American League MVP Award in 2011. No NL pitcher has won the award since Bob Gibson in 1968.
Despite the difference in leagues, Verlander said Kershaw has been the best pitcher in baseball, and his opinion hasn't changed that deserving pitchers should be considered for MVP. Verlander also noted there are a number of factors involved for a pitcher to win the award.
"My year, there weren't a lot of guys that had huge years, offensively," Verlander said. "I don't know what's going on in the National League, I haven't really paid attention, but I had one of those perfect years."
While some critics will point out that pitchers have the Cy Young Award to battle for, Verlander said there is a difference between the two.
"I think Cy Young is starting to go towards sabermetrics -- ERA, ERA+, lots of different things besides just win-losses and traditional Triple Crown stats [wins, ERA and strikeouts]," Verlander said. "When you start talking about MVP, it needs to be one of those all-encompassing type years.
"I know what a 1.80 [ERA] means, and I know how incredible it is, regardless of the league. That's just Nintendo numbers."
Bobby Nightengale is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.