DETROIT -- According to Gerald Laird, there's a pretty obvious reason he's been called upon to pinch-run for Alex Avila in the ninth inning of the Tigers' past two games.
"In a 100-yard dash, I can look backwards and run and beat him," said Laird, sparking some trash talk in the clubhouse.
It's not something the 32-year-old catcher frequently does, but it's not unheard of. Laird said he often served as pinch-runner for catchers in the early stages of his career, and did so for Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina occasionally last season.
Manager Jim Leyland couldn't measure how much quicker Laird was, but said there's a considerable difference, and he plans to utilize that late in games.
"If it's the ninth inning, probably if we're behind," said Leyland about calling on Laird to run. "But not in the seventh inning or something. In last night's case, you're shooting the works because it's the ninth inning and there is no 10th inning unless you tie it. You're not really worried about catching innings too much. But if you do it in the seventh inning, you've got to be a little more careful."
Avila wasn't conceding without a fight, however. When asked how much of an advantage Laird holds in speed, he quickly referred to the stats and called for a race.
"We're going to have to race to see how fast he is," Avila said. "He can run, but I still have more stolen bases, more triples. I had seven triples last year."
Tigers to use caution with left-hander Smyly
DETROIT -- Rookie left-hander Drew Smyly has been so impressive through five starts that Tigers manager Jim Leyland has started making long-term plans for the 22-year-old. And those plans include a pitch and innings limit, Leyland said Saturday.
Leyland said that Smyly is going to be right around 100 pitches in every outing this year, and he's already looking into an innings limit for the season.
"He's just a baby, so I'm going to have to watch that," Leyland said. "I'm putting a plan together, almost as we speak, on when to back him off. We're looking at the All-Star break and how many days [we have]. I want to make sure I don't do anything crazy and abuse him."
The skipper didn't have that specific innings number Saturday, but said Smyly will likely miss a start at some point.
"I don't know when that'll happen," he said. "I'm going to sit down and talk with [president/general manager] Dave [Dombrowski] about that, let him have a little breather. We're just getting started. This is a grueling situation for a kid that hasn't pitched much."
Smyly earned the fifth rotation spot out of Spring Training. Leyland said that had it been a guy with experience like Andy Oliver, there would be no limit. But with Smyly having never thrown more than 126 innings -- he did so pitching in the Minors last season -- he'll take caution.
Smyly's 1.61 ERA is tied for the American League lead with Angels pitcher Jered Weaver. He fired six innings Friday night, allowing two runs, in the Tigers' 5-4 walk-off victory over the White Sox. He didn't factor into the decision for the fourth time in five starts and he's racked up 28 innings.
Hits starting to fall for Avila
DETROIT -- Marred in a 6-for-41 (.146) rut over his past 12 games, Tigers catcher Alex Avila insisted on Monday he wasn't slumping. He blamed the small sample size for derailing his batting average and said one 3-for-3 performance would put it back around "280-something".
It turns out, that's almost exactly what happened. With a 3-for-3 game Friday -- and going 6-for-9 since Monday -- Avila's average jumped from .220 to .279.
The three hits marked his second multi-hit performance in as many games, as the All-Star catcher went from cold to red hot. Avila provided almost all of the offensive production for the Tigers through the first seven innings of Friday's game.
He doubled in the second inning and crossed the plate for the first run of the game. Two innings later, he hit an opposite-field home run, his fourth of the season, to give Detroit a 2-1 lead. His single in the ninth brought the game-winning run to the plate and shortstop Jhonny Peralta didn't waste the opportunity, belting a walk-off homer for a stunning 5-4 win over the White Sox.
"I think when Alex is really going good, he's doing what he did [Friday night]," Leyland said. "And he's also turning on some balls early in the count."
Avila downplayed the slump after the game Friday, as he did earlier in the week. Averaging a team-high 4.17 pitches seen per at-bat, the 25-year-old maintained his stance that he's been having quality at-bats, but the results were just more evident.
"In baseball you're going to struggle," Avila said. "Sometimes you're going to play well, sometimes you're not. That's just part of the game."
Eldred clears waivers, assigned to Toledo
DETROIT -- After being designated for assignment to clear space for Delmon Young, who was reactivated from Major League Baseball's restricted list Friday, Brad Eldred cleared waivers Saturday and the Tigers outrighted his contract to Triple-A Toledo.
Edlred appeared in five games with the Tigers, batting .188 (3-for-16) with a double, a triple and an RBI. Manager Jim Leyland said Eldred would be given the opportunity to claim the designated-hitter role after hitting 13 home runs in 20 games with the Mud Hens.
However, the power numbers didn't translate to the big leagues for the 31-year-old, who has spent the majority of his 10-year career in the Minors.
"I think he actually did OK up here," Leyland said. "He didn't tear it up by any means, don't get me wrong. [But] he didn't embarrass himself. He did all right. It's a little tougher up here."
The Tigers chose to cut Eldred over Danny Worth, who was called up last Saturday when Young was placed on the restricted list. Leyland said he kept Worth because of his ability to play numerous positions.
"With Danny, as opposed to a guy like Eldred, you're more versatile," Leyland said Friday. "I can pinch-run him late in the game if I want to. I can do some things. In all fairness to Eldred, when we get Danny, we become a little more athletic -- not that Eldred isn't, because he runs really good for a big guy. But I'm talking about playing the field, maneuvering around late in the game and stuff."
Delmon Young returned to the lineup on Saturday, batting fifth and serving as the team's designated hitter in the 3-2 loss to the White Sox. He went 0-for-4.
The Tigers scored their 17th eighth-inning run of the season Friday night when Miguel Cabrera singled in Don Kelly to cut the deficit to one run.
Not counting extra innings, the Tigers have their most runs, most hits (30), most at-bats (100), and best batting average (.300) in the eighth inning.
Octavio Dotel's two-run home run allowed to Gordon Beckham on Friday night marked his first runs of the season.
The runs were his first given up since Sept. 26, 2011, when he was with the Cardinals. The home run was his first since Phillies outfielder Raul Ibanez hit a grand slam off the 38-year-old right-hander on Sept. 17, 2011.
Anthony Odoardi is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.