DETROIT -- A day after Tigers manager Jim Leyland said Miguel Cabrera would get a day off if his sore right ankle was hampering him at the plate, reality set in. While Cabrera can still play as the designated hitter, the Tigers need him back at third base if they're going to get their offense going.
Thus, as Leyland sat in his office on a quiet Sunday morning, he took account of his roster, took a deep breath, talked it over with Cabrera and made the difficult decision to sit his American League Most Valuable Player award candidate for a day. The fact that it was the rubber game of a series against an AL Wild Card competitor didn't make it any easier.
"I didn't even sleep [Saturday] night," Leyland said. "I talked to a lot of people. I made a couple calls last night. I talked to my coaches all day."
Sunday's decision wasn't about Sunday at all, though. It was about the 5 1/2 weeks left in the season after that.
"At the end of the day, what's best for Miguel Cabrera is best for the Tigers," Leyland said. "And it was best for Miguel Cabrera to sit today. I believe that with all my heart. I don't even have any question about it."
The timing goes back to Leyland's long-held philosophy about resting guys ahead of an off-day. It's essentially two days off for the price of one, providing double the rest. The fact that it was a day game after a night game didn't hurt, either, as opposed to resting somebody on Tuesday in Kansas City.
Leyland believe it'll pay off by having Cabrera back at third base on Tuesday.
"I'm pretty confident that Miguel will play third base in the Kansas City series," Leyland said. "Now, would I etch that in stone? No, I can't, but I'm pretty confident he'll play third base. I think this did wonders for him. It has nothing to do with the fact that we won the game."
Delmon Young returned to his usual DH spot after back-to-back games in left field, but stayed in his usual lineup slot, batting fifth behind Prince Fielder. Brennan Boesch returned to the lineup for just the second time in nine days, batting sixth. Andy Dirks played left field and batted third.
Third-base duties fell to Jeff Baker for the second consecutive game.
Young getting into groove at the plate
DETROIT -- The last time Delmon Young had two extra-base hits in a three-hit game, he was in the middle of a stretch run with the Tigers last September. To say his three-hit, two-double performance on Saturday night was welcome would be an understatement.
While Young is batting .324 (23-for-71) over his last 18 games after Sunday 5-2 win over the Angels, he hasn't shown much statistical power, Sunday's solo homer notwithstanding. He has seven doubles and two home runs over that stretch. In terms of contact, though, he's connecting solidly on a more consistent basis than earlier in the year, and he's striking out at a lower rate.
"He's in a good groove right now," manager Jim Leyland said. "He's been hitting some balls hard. He hasn't had the best of luck, and he still didn't have the production that he wanted, but he's been hitting some balls hard for a while now, and it looks like now they're starting to fall."
Both of Young's doubles on Saturday were well-struck line drives into the gaps off Angels starter Dan Haren. He added a ground ball through the middle for a single, accounting for three of Detroit's eight hits off Haren over 5 2/3 innings.
Asked why he's heating up at the plate, Young said, "I just know I'm not coming back to the dugout after I swing."
Leyland had been planning on sitting Young on Sunday, but changed his plans, even before deciding that Miguel Cabrera would get the game off.
"Delmon had a huge night [on Saturday], feels real good," Leyland said before the rubber game against the Halos. "When you have a veteran like that who feels real good, you're probably smart to play him."
That move paid off, as Young went 2-for-4 in the series finale, with a double and a home run.
Smyly slated for role in Tigers' bullpen
DETROIT -- The widely-held assumption about Drew Smyly upon the Tigers' decision to start him in place of injured Doug Fister was that he would give way to a reliever after his start so that the Tigers could return to a full relief corps.
As it turns out, Smyly is the reliever.
"If Fister's ready [to start Friday], then Smyly can fall into the bullpen as a long man," Tigers skipper Jim Leyland said. "That's pretty simple."
Smyly has one relief appearance in his two-year professional career, a bullpen cameo at the tail end of last season at Double-A Erie. He does not expect it to be a major adjustment in the big leagues, though he'll have to get a feel for how much throwing he'll need to get warmed up in the bullpen.
"If they want me to be there and think that I can help the team down there, that's a point of pride in my eyes," said Smyly, who allowed one earned run on four hits in six innings with six strikeouts against the Angels on Saturday.
Tigers improving against basestealers
DETROIT -- Only the Angels and Indians have allowed more stolen bases than the Tigers this season, yet Detroit's 28 percent caught-stealing rate ranks in the middle of the pack among American League clubs. In a week in which the Tigers knew they would be tested, however, they fared better than expected.
When Alex Avila threw out Erick Aybar trying to steal third base on Saturday night, he erased what would have been a 4-0 Angels lead on Vernon Wells' ensuing single. He also brought the Tigers to the break-even point against basestealers for the week, one in which they faced two teams that actively look to run.
The Tigers ended up allowing four stolen bases and throwing out four would-be basestealers against the Blue Jays and Angels -- and nailing a runner in four consecutive games. Part of the credit goes to the Tigers' pitching, which kept Mike Trout hitless over the first two games of the series. Part of it also comes down to their pitchers becoming less predictable once opponents do get on base.
"Our guys are doing a much better job," Leyland said.
Rick Porcello, who has drastically improved his numbers against basestealers since the All-Star break, said there was no particular emphasis placed on holding runners this week. However, he said, they've made a point about giving catcher Alex Avila a fighting chance to throw guys out.
"As a pitching staff, we really weren't doing a good job of holding down runners and varying times [to the plate]," Porcello said. "As long as we give him a chance to throw guys out, [we're] doing [our] job. Most of the time, when a guy steals a base, it's on the pitcher, not the catcher."