DETROIT -- Tigers manager Jim Leyland said Tuesday he was looking for different combinations and more offense when he decided to sit Brandon Inge for Don Kelly. On Wednesday, that trend continued. Don Kelly started at third base and batted second for a second straight day. Inge was out of the lineup.
The move is not believed to be health related. Though Inge had been dealing with headaches and soreness as a result of a virus last week, he said Monday he was starting to feel better.
"I'm looking to try to find some more combinations, keep guys sharp by playing them, and find some combinations to get a little more offense," Leyland said Tuesday.
So far this season, left-handed hitters have been a good combination against Rays starter Andy Sonnanstine, batting 17-for-46 (.370) off him this season, compared to a .220 average (11-for-50) from right-handed batters.
That doesn't necessarily mean anything longer-term at third base for the Tigers. But it could provide an interesting scenario this weekend against the Red Sox, who are scheduled to start right-handed pitchers every day of the four-game series.
Inge has always had wild swings in his batting average, but his .208 mark entering Wednesday is his lowest at this point in a season since 2003, when he was still a catcher. He's batting .190 (23-for-121) over his last 38 games, though he had a decent five-game stretch last week, going 5-for-19.
Benoit starting to settle into groove
DETROIT -- Joaquin Benoit looks like someone almost defying physics when he's at the top of his game. His big 6-foot-3 frame unwinds slowly in his motion before he fires a 95 mph fastball with movement over the plate, producing way more velocity than the delivery would suggest.
He didn't have that ease in his early outings, but he has that now. It's easy to see now, and Benoit can feel it.
"You can feel when things are going right," Benoit said Tuesday night, after recording his first save as a Tiger. "Even when you release the ball, it feels better in your hands when you bring it in. It's something that is positive for you, you being able to recognize what you're doing, it's great. It's a good thing."
For manager Jim Leyland, it's a great thing. He essentially had no choice but to return Benoit to his setup role over the weekend, because he didn't have any other obvious candidates. He admitted he had to hope Benoit was back in form enough to get the job done.
It's just a couple of outings, but Leyland feels a lot easier about his situation.
Pacing in delivery was something Benoit noticed in looking over video. It's also something he can sense if he's conscious of it.
"It was the same as last year," he said. "Last year, at the beginning of the year, all of my pitches were high up, and I had to figure something out. When I started feeling the ball coming out good out of my hand, it was easy. It's the same here. I was going too quick to the plate, and all my pitches were up. Now, I think I've figured something out, and now everything is going downhill."
Last year at this point, Benoit was getting used to pitching again after missing all of 2009 recovering from labrum surgery. This year, he was arguably getting used to being a high-profile pitcher with a bigger contract.
"I think he needed a little confidence," Leyland said. "You know, he's really good. That's why we got him. Sometimes you get a bump in the road. Sometimes you come to a place with a new contract and everything, trying to do too much.
"Hopefully we can just get him settled in now where he's going to pitch the eighth and Jose Valverde the ninth. We'll get it straightened out."
To Leyland, Benoit is the key to straightening out the entire bullpen. Hand over the eighth inning to him, and Leyland can then mix and match his younger relievers in the seventh, including Alberto Alburquerque, whose high-strikeout, high-walk tendencies present a bigger problem in some situations than others.
Alburquerque shows good command in first win
DETROIT -- Alberto Alburquerque's first Major League win Tuesday night was also a good test for the rookie right-hander. He entered in the eighth inning with the bases loaded with Rays, one out, and the Tigers needing a strikeout to keep their deficit at only a run.
Alburquerque struck out Sean Rodriguez on just three pitches, getting swings and misses on the last two -- including a nasty slider in the dirt for strike three. He then got a Sam Fuld comebacker that he deflected to shortstop Jhonny Peralta, who beat Casey Kotchman to second base for the force out.
For someone with 11 walks in 15 1/3 innings this year, it was a good response in a situation where he had no open base to put a runner.
"He's got some nice equipment," manager Jim Leyland said. "It's just a matter of consistency. Teams first time haven't seen him, and they chase some stuff. You just don't know if that'll hold up later on once they get to know him. It's a vicious pitch, so it gives him a better chance to get them to swing a bad pitch like they did last night."