DETROIT -- Alex Avila says everybody's playing through injuries this time of the year, and the Tigers catcher has a point. He looks at one end of the clubhouse and sees Victor Martinez moving gingerly with an intercostal strain, and turns to his left to find Delmon Young playing through an abdominal strain. He also sees Magglio Ordonez devastated by a broken right ankle that has ended his season, and possibly his career.
As long as Avila can bend that painful right knee, he's going to squat behind the plate and catch his pitching staff.
"If we're playing, Alex will be catching," said manager Jim Leyland, halting any speculation Omir Santos could get a start to give Avila a break.
But that doesn't mean Leyland doesn't understand what Avila is going through, or downplays it compared with anyone else.
"Alex is banged up pretty good," Leyland said. "His knee was swelling up not too long ago. Trainers are doing the best they can to take care of that."
They're making the sore patella playable, but it's impossible to ignore.
It's essentially a case of one injury leading to another. When Martinez sprained his left knee on an early August slide at Kansas City, it left him unable to catch. Without another true catcher on the roster, it left Avila catching every inning of 18 consecutive games, and starting in 46 of the Tigers' final 51 contests, including 37 starts in 40 games until the Tigers clinched their first division title since 1987.
The reward was a hot bat that didn't cool until the stretch run, after they had clinched. The cost is being seen now. He's 2-for-29 this postseason, and both his swing and his stride reflect someone who's at less than full mobility.
"He's hurting," Leyland said. "He's gotten banged up all year, but we got in that one stretch where we couldn't do anything about it. He had to catch all those games. That hurt him, and I couldn't do anything about it."
It's too late to do much about it now. With every game critical, he isn't about to get one off, and a day out of the lineup isn't likely to help him. But with a patella injury, Leyland said, it isn't likely to get much worse.
Avila's teammate, Brandon Inge, played through patella tears on both of his knees for the second half the 2009 season before undergoing two surgeries that offseason. Unlike Avila, Inge wasn't squatting behind the plate every day. He was playing third base.
"He's next to me all the time," Inge said. "I've been checking up with him all the time. He's one of those guys who's not going to tell the coaching staff and those guys how bad he's probably really hurting, but he's toughened through it. So I'm trying to make sure he knows not to hurt himself, make sure he's going to still be able to perform and produce for this team."
Despite workload, Valverde available for Game 4
DETROIT -- When it was announced that batting practice would be indoors and Jose Valverde would be coming to the podium for a pregame interview Wednesday, Justin Verlander, who had just finished his interview, let out a chuckle.
Valverde's outgoing and care-free attitude made headlines in the American League Division Series when he jokingly said the Tigers would win the series in Detroit.
The prediction didn't come true, but Valverde had the last laugh with a strikeout to win the series in New York. Expectedly, Valverde was asked if he has a prediction for the AL Championship Series, and again, he had an answer.
"[Texas has] two points, Detroit had one point, but today I think everybody will be the same, two [games each]," Valverde said.
Despite pitching three innings and throwing 39 pitches in the last two days, Valverde said he is ready to go if called upon.
Valverde has pitched on three straight days five times this year. From July 6-8, he threw 68 pitches in a game against the Angels and a pair against the Royals.
When manager Jim Leyland was asked if anyone in the bullpen was not available, he simply responded, "postseason." Leyland knows players have to try to push their limits this time of year.
"I feel great. You know what I mean?" Valverde said. "All the time when everybody is playing in the postseason, there's nobody tired. Nobody's sore. Except me, I don't know the other guys. I feel awesome. I sleep great last night. I ate good today. I'm ready to go."
Inge closing in on Greenberg's playoff record
DETROIT -- Brandon Inge's name is being used in the same sentence as Hank Greenberg and Charlie Gehringer.
No, there won't be a statue of Inge in center field, but entering Wednesday, Inge is tied for second all time in postseason games played in Tigers history with 20. He is tied with Gehringer and three behind Greenberg.
There are more postseason games and series played nowadays, compared to when Gehringer and Greenberg played, but that doesn't make the honor any less special for Inge.
"I'm proud to be a part of that," Inge said. "Anytime you speak of legendary names in Detroit history and my name gets thrown in there in the same sentence, I'm very proud of that as well."
Not only is Inge's name near the top of the postseason games played list, it's also on the roster of the 2003 Tigers team that lost an American League-record 119 games. It's the fact that Inge has been through the lows that make the highs that much more special.
"It means more to me than people know, simply because of the fact that when I was first coming up in '01, we weren't looked at as a team that might even come close to making the postseason," Inge said.
"So I'm very proud of being able to have that many games in the postseason now, having turned the seasons like '01, '02 or '03, having those seasons, having turned them around."
Lemon impressed with Jackson's abilities
DETROIT -- Chet Lemon was drafted as a shortstop, made the big leagues as a utility player and became a center fielder once he went from third base to second base to try to cut off a ball. His speed was made for the open space of center.
That's why he loves Comerica Park, and why he loves watching Austin Jackson covering so much territory in it.
"I know it's a lot of hard work to play a center field like this one," Lemon said, "because it's such a big ballpark, and you just love to roam all over the place. He's a great center fielder and just a joy to watch play. He covers a lot of ground out there."
Lemon covered Tiger Stadium's gaps and depths for nine seasons, including Detroit's last World Series title season in 1984. He was back in town to throw out the ceremonial first pitch for Game 4 of the American League Championship Series.
It was a long-awaited return for Lemon, who wasn't able to make it to ceremonies honoring Sparky Anderson earlier this summer due to commitments with his youth baseball program. It was his first chance to talk with Jackson, who has etched his place among the best center fielders in the game today with a similar work ethic.
"Yeah, I talked to him," Lemon said. "He's a good guy. We were laughing, having a good time. I guess [outfield coach and former Lemon teammate] Tommy Brookens talks to him a lot about me and how I used to work so hard in practice chasing fly balls.
"I know all about how guys used to say whenever they saw me coming to center field, all the pitchers and everybody, it was like the parting of the Red Sea. There was nobody out in center field but me, because I just ran down everything."
Whitaker to throw Game 5 ceremonial first pitch
DETROIT -- Lou Whitaker, a hero from the Tigers' 1984 World Series championship team and a Hall of Famer in many Detroiters' eyes, is slated to throw out the ceremonial first pitch prior to Game 5 of the American League Championship Series on Thursday afternoon at Comerica Park.
Whitaker made a rare appearance at the ballpark in June for ceremonies honoring the late Sparky Anderson, joining former teammates Alan Trammell and Kirk Gibson. Whitaker has long held a special place in the hearts of Tigers fans, many of whom regard him among the great second basemen of all time. He and Trammell served as Detroit's double play combination for the better part of two decades once they made it to the big leagues in 1977.
The national anthem will be performed by legendary Motown group The Four Tops. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame members have performed at Tigers Opening Day festivities in the past.
The gates to Comerica Park are scheduled to open at 2 p.m. ET. Game time, weather permitting, is set for 4:19.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. Chris Vannini is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.