DETROIT -- Jim Leyland has spent a lot of time over the past week or so repeating his belief that Magglio Ordonez will hit this season. The veteran's track record says he'll produce.

On Thursday, Leyland said much the same about Brandon Inge. It's a different track record, no question, but the steady run production of someone Leyland called a "spurt guy" gives the Tigers' manager the expectation that Inge will heat up. To make his point, Leyland recited Inge's numbers, year after year.

In other words, Inge will get his numbers, but they'll most likely come in bunches. His average per 162 games is 17 home runs and 70 RBIs, though those stats come with a .236 average, a .698 OPS and 139 strikeouts.

"It's kind of mind-boggling at times," Leyland said. "Sometimes he looks like he's [struggling], but those are his numbers. Think about that, hitting ninth. That's a pretty good ninth hitter. It comes in spurts sometimes, and sometimes it doesn't look as pretty, but ...

"He's struggling right now, there's no question about that."

Alburquerque will go where slider takes him

DETROIT -- When Fernando Rodney manned the Tigers' bullpen, team officials called his changeup one of the toughest pitches in baseball. Now, they're starting to say the same thing about Al Alburquerque and his slider.

The pitch isn't just tough to hit; it's challenging to catch. Alex Avila said that what makes the slider so tough is that it can be hard to tell how sharp it's going to break, making it difficult to track.

It's a pitch Alburquerque said he worked to improve over the offseason.

"Right now, it's better than last year [because of] the movement," Alburquerque said. "It's more quick."

So far, it's Alburquerque's primary pitch. About three of every five pitches he has thrown have been sliders, according to data on fangraphs.com. The right-hander's scoreless ninth inning in Wednesday's 4-0 win over the Yankees featured 13 sliders and two curveballs out of 19 pitches, with just four fastballs, according to data from MLB.com's Gameday and brooksbaseball.net.

It's a pitch hitters can know is coming and still not necessarily hit.

The better that Alburquerque can spot his mid-90s fastball, the more effective his slider will be. As long as hitters have to respect the idea that Alburquerque can spot the fastball, Avila said, they'll have a problem sitting on the slider because of the difference in timing.

In some ways, it's a similar challenge that Rodney faced and finally got under control in his final year with the Tigers. Rodney's changeup was effective only when he had fastball command, which was inconsistent for much of his time in the Tigers organization.

Healthy Victor gives Avila rare breather

DETROIT -- In an ideal scenario, Victor Martinez probably wouldn't be catching quite so soon after coming off the disabled list. But with Alex Avila having caught every inning of the Tigers' past 12 games entering Thursday, it was time for a day off. Even for a healthy 24-year-old who geared his offseason workouts around preparing for the wear and tear of everyday catching, it was a lot.

Avila caught all but one game while Martinez was on the DL. Omir Santos, who took Martinez's place on the roster, caught one game, on April 20 at Seattle, and didn't play a minute after that. The way Avila was hitting compared to the rest of the Tigers' lineup, it was too difficult to take him out.

Avila's hot bat made it tempting for manager Jim Leyland to give him a day as the designated hitter, rather than a day completely out of the lineup. The problem with that idea was the possibility of Martinez needing to come out of a game to avoid aggravating the right groin injury that landed him on the DL in the first place. If Avila was the DH and had to go back behind the plate in the middle of a game, the Tigers would lose the DH slot and have to bat their pitcher.

The Tigers have a third catcher in Don Kelly, but Leyland said he doesn't want to use Kelly behind the plate in more than an emergency situation.