DETROIT -- Considering Joaquin Benoit's injury history, notably his labrum surgery two years ago, any protracted struggles are going to bring up questions regarding the right-hander's health. It popped into the minds of Tigers officials, too.
By Benoit's account, he's healthy.
"It's one of the first things I checked," manager Jim Leyland said. "I had it all checked out yesterday. He's fine. We checked again today, talked a little. That's one thing you have to be careful of, when a guy signs here, comes over and wants to do good and doesn't want to tell you when something's not right. But we want to know that. But that boils down to really being on the player. All you can do is ask the player to be honest with you."
As long as Benoit is healthy, Leyland said, he'll be out in the eighth inning to protect a lead.
"He's my setup guy, when available," Leyland said.
Tigers work around Miggy's free passes
DETROIT -- It seems a little early in the season to suggest that the Tigers slugger should get an extra letter on his jersey to go by Miguel Ca-BB-rera. But after three intentional walks over three games in Cleveland, where Indians manager Manny Acta freely told reporters he feared Detroit's cleanup hitter, the free passes are already piling up.
As much as manager Jim Leyland wants to avoid the walks, he admitted there's only so much he can do.
"My thought process is, I can't totally protect Cabrera," Leyland said on Monday. "I can't do it. You're trying to win the game, but your focus can't totally be on protecting Miggy, because I can't totally protect him."
For instance, Leyland said, he couldn't rule out using Ramon Santiago to lay down a sacrifice bunt if Austin Jackson gets a leadoff single late in Monday's game. It would open up first base for the Yankees to walk Cabrera, but it would also create an opportunity for a single from his third or fifth hitter to score Jackson -- in Monday's case, Magglio Ordonez or Brennan Boesch.
Statistically, the Indians' decisions to pitch around Cabrera don't include the unintentional walk and hit-by-pitch he took on Sunday. Nevertheless, Cabrera has vaulted back into the Major League lead with seven intentional walks this season. His six in April were more than his totals for that month over his previous three seasons in Detroit combined (five).
Cabrera didn't blame Acta for the strategy.
"That's just part of the plan they've got," Cabrera said on Sunday. "So I have to play. You have to play the game, and you have to do something to win games. It worked the first two games. Why are they going to change the plans? It's part of the game."
If this pace were to hold up, Cabrera would finish the season with 40, shattering the American League record of 33 set by John Olerud in 1993. The pace almost surely won't stand, though, once the Tigers get Victor Martinez back from the disabled list.
That doesn't mean the intentional walks will disappear altogether. Three of Cabrera's intentional walks came with Martinez in the lineup, before he went on the disabled list with a strained right groin. But Martinez's return will at least give the Tigers a veteran run producer to take advantage of RBI opportunities.
In the end, the best protection is for the hitters batting in front of and behind Cabrera to step up.
"This is one thing that people have to understand: If my third-place hitter and fifth-place hitter can't get a hit, then we're in trouble," Leyland said. "Your third hitter and your fifth hitter, they're supposed to be two good hitters. If they can't knock in a run, we might as well go home. And I'm not talking about my guys; I'm talking about in general."
Leyland sticks with Jackson to lead off
DETROIT -- After some thought, manager Jim Leyland went into this series against the Yankees with Austin Jackson back atop the batting order. Leyland said after Sunday's game, in which Jackson hit ninth, that he wasn't sure whether he would move Jackson back up.
In the end, Jackson was the most logical candidate. Ramon Santiago, 8-for-17 lifetime against Bartolo Colon, started at second base over Will Rhymes, who has batted leadoff both times when Jackson hasn't this season.
"You're trying to do a little bit of a psych job," Leyland said, "when you try to get guys out of a spot -- move them here, try to make things a little easier for them, try to relax them a little bit. That's all part of managing.
Jackson reached base safely eight times in 15 plate appearances over the three-game weekend series at Cleveland, showing signs of an improvement over his early struggles. Six of his seven outs came by strikeout.
Monday was Jackson's first game in Detroit opposite Curtis Granderson, part of the trade that brought Jackson to the Tigers two offseasons ago.
Leyland: 'No doubt' Tigers will perform
DETROIT -- Jim Leyland knew the reaction that awaited him when the Tigers returned home on Sunday night from a three-game series sweep at Cleveland.
On Monday, the manager defended his club.
"I love my team," Leyland said. "I still love my team. I don't care what's happened. That's just how I feel about it. I think this is a real good team, and I know that this team, at some point, is going to really play good. I believe that with all my heart. If I felt [otherwise], I'd tell you, but this is a good team."
That theme appeared to be at least part of the message coming out of Sunday's postgame team meeting. Several players had similar remarks after Sunday's loss.
"I think that you just know you have a good team and you know it's going to play good," Leyland said. "I don't know if it's going to be tonight or tomorrow or the next day, but this team will play good. There's absolutely no doubt in my mind. We have too many good players. This team will play good."
Fond memories of Detroit for Granderson
DETROIT -- Curtis Granderson's days patrolling center field in Detroit may seem like a rather distant memory at this point, considering he has already spent a full season with the Yankees and entered Monday having played against the Tigers seven times since a three-team trade brought him to New York in December 2009.
But while addressing a mob of reporters prior to the start of a four-game series between his current and former team, Granderson found himself sitting in the visitors' dugout at Comerica Park for the first time.
"It's kind of interesting that I'm going to walk up from this side of the plate when I get announced," Granderson said before facing his old pal, Tigers ace Justin Verlander.
As for what would happen when he'd get announced, Granderson was hopeful of receiving a warm reception, but not overly optimistic.
Granderson knows the fans in Detroit still love him -- as they proved when flocking to him as he made his way to the bus on Monday -- but the center fielder also knows the Yankees are disliked at pretty much every visiting ballpark.
"I think it's going to be 50-50," Granderson said, "just because I remember when we would play the Yankees and come in, you can't help but put some boos out there."
When the game began, that reaction -- as a surprise to basically nobody but Granderson -- was entirely positive, but rather subdued due to a late-arriving crowd.
Granderson was on the disabled list with a left groin injury when the Yankees made their only trip to Detroit from May 10-13 last year.
A third-round Draft pick by the Tigers in 2002, Granderson batted .273 with a .346 on-base percentage, 94 homers and 66 stolen bases in his four full seasons in Detroit, from 2006-09. He manned center field when Verlander hurled a no-hitter on June 12, 2007, and helped anchor a team that reached the World Series in 2006.
Granderson was born and raised in nearby Illinois, but he has a special place in his heart for Detroit. Always will.
"I loved the fans here, the city of Detroit and the state of Michigan -- absolutely amazing in terms of their loyalty for anything Detroit baseball," said Granderson, who walked in his first at-bat, then scored on Jorge Posada's ground-rule double. "The amount of people that carry it with them no matter where they go, on the road or here in the state of Michigan, was just absolutely amazing."
Granderson was dealt to the Yankees in the blockbuster deal that sent Edwin Jackson and Ian Kennedy to Arizona, and Austin Jackson, Phil Coke, Daniel Schlereth and Max Scherzer to Detroit.
Prior to the game, Austin Jackson -- the heir apparent to Granderson in center -- was given a Players Choice Award for American League Outstanding Rookie following his standout first season.
Through one month this season, though, it's Granderson who's thriving and Jackson who's struggling.
Jackson came in with a .194 batting average and a Major League-high 37 strikeouts, while Granderson -- thanks to a calmer approach he has worked on with hitting coach Kevin Long -- was hitting .281 with eight homers and 18 RBIs through his first 25 games.
Granderson's new team came in with the second-best record in the AL. His old team, meanwhile, was riding a six-game losing streak.
"Detroit's very talented; they've got great pitchers out there and an offense that's arguably one of the best in baseball," Granderson said. "So they're going to get some things going. It's just a matter of time."
-- Alden Gonzalez
Military triumph brings joy to Coke
DETROIT -- Phil Coke has a brother in the military who, coincidentally, is in town to visit the left-hander this week before heading back to Washington. The two were together on Sunday night for dinner with Brad Thomas and other teammates when they saw the news that American military forces had killed Osama bin Laden.
For Coke, who spent part of his career in New York and visited the site of the World Trade Center, the news was big.
"As far as I'm concerned, I think it's a really big deal," Coke said. "Hopefully, that will send somewhat of a statement, like, 'We're not going to sit back and give up on something. We're definitely going to pursue until we get what we set out to do.' That's a big deal.
"But if you measure it out, that one guy doesn't equate to 9/11. All of that stuff that happened on 9/11 doesn't equate to that one guy."
Coke spent two seasons in the Yankees' bullpen before coming to Detroit two winters ago in the Curtis Granderson trade. The California native was in college ball when the Sept. 11 attacks took place.
"I watched it on TV when I was in college," Coke said. "I was sicker than you can imagine. I woke up right about the same time that first plane hit. I'm feeling terrible, and then the second one hit. It bothered me greatly, and to find out that guy that was behind it, that he was the mastermind, I want to see pictures. I want to know that he's dead, personally. I don't know how everybody else feels, but that's me."
Thomas had just finished up a season in which he got his first chance in the big leagues with the Twins. He's a native of Australia and still lives there in the offseason, but his memories are fresh of the Al-Qaida attacks in Bali in 2002 that killed more than 200 people, including 88 Australians.
"I think everybody's pretty happy," Thomas said. "Doesn't matter where you're from."