MINNEAPOLIS -- Brayan Villarreal entered Friday with a .220 batting average allowed and a 3.04 ERA since the All-Star break, but also 12 walks over 23 2/3 innings. For the most part, those walks hadn't come back to haunt him. On Friday, three walks -- two of them intentional -- did.
In the long run, the Tigers expect Villarreal will learn from outings like Friday's loss, where a five-pitch walk to Justin Morneau after an intentional walk to Joe Mauer left him no room to fall behind Ryan Doumit.
If Villarreal had thrown a first-pitch breaking ball, it might have gotten Villarreal a swing and miss, but it also could have put him behind in the count.
"I thought about calling a breaking ball, but my thought is, 'I have to get ahead right here,'" catcher Gerald Laird said. "If I call a breaking ball and he falls behind, sometimes it takes a couple pitches to get his fastball command back."
Villarreal's maximum-effort delivery is the reason. Still, pitching coach Jeff Jones said, Villarreal was in a position where a good first-pitch fastball could've gotten them the out they needed in a tie game.
The fastball hit 98 mph on the Target Field radar gun, but Villarreal didn't hit his location. Doumit hit it deep into the right-center-field gap for a go-ahead two-run double.
The hit again raised the debate: Is it wiser for a hitter to be hacking on the first pitch after a pitcher issues multiple walks, or should he take the pitch and make the pitcher show he can throw a strike?
"That [debate] will be going on when I'm long gone," manager Jim Leyland said.
Focused on team, Miggy in line for Triple Crown
MINNEAPOLIS -- Miguel Cabrera is getting tired of talking about the Triple Crown. Nevertheless, he's in line to win it.
"I want to talk about the team," Cabrera said. "There's too many distractions right now. I've been talking too much about the Triple Crown. I want to go out there and play my game."
Fortunately, his 43rd home run of the year on Saturday night allows his stats to speak for themselves.
If the numbers don't, his teammates will.
"At this point, I think his case [for American League MVP] is made," Verlander said. "I mean, we've got four games left, and he's leading the league in the Triple Crown categories. Even if he doesn't get it, I mean, come on. It's surreal, unbelievable what he's done this year."
Cabrera's eighth-inning line drive off former teammate Casey Fien barely cleared the left-field fence, moving him into a tie with Josh Hamilton for the AL home run lead. The three-run shot stretched his RBI total to a league-leading 136, while his AL-best batting average is .327.
Minnesota catcher Joe Mauer went 0-for-3, dropping his average to .320.
Cabrera said he spent the last couple days working in the cage with hitting coach Lloyd McClendon on his approach after a mini-slump for most of this week.
"I was swinging at a lot of offspeed [pitches] in the dirt," Cabrera said. "I was pulling a lot of balls. I always want to stay inside on the ball. We worked the last couple days in the cage to try to get the swing right."
He has scorched two line drives to either corner over the last two games. His opposite-field drive Friday hit high off the wall. His pulled drive Saturday landed in the seats.
Scherzer throws, chances improve for Wednesday
DETROIT -- The Tigers have Max Scherzer listed as their probable starter for Wednesday's regular-season finale against the Royals. More importantly, they now have a realistic scenario to get him there.
Scherzer threw on Saturday for the first time since shoulder soreness shut him down early in the week. He played catch from 60 feet away and felt no soreness in the deltoid area that had been bothering him. That put a schedule in place that could get him back on the mound.
"All the range of motion is there," Scherzer said after throwing. "Now it's at a point to try to get my strength back."
The key, Scherzer said, will be if he still has nothing more than normal soreness Sunday morning. If that's the case, he'll throw at full effort Sunday in a long-toss session. If all goes well there, he has a bullpen session scheduled for Monday in Kansas City, the final hurdle to get him cleared to start.
Drew Smyly, who tossed 5 1/3 scoreless innings in Scherzer's spot Friday night, will obviously remain on standby and prepare as if Wednesday will be his start. That means the Tigers' bullpen will remain limited to two left-handers -- Phil Coke and Darin Downs -- for the stretch run.
Tigers use caution with Dotel's sore biceps
MINNEAPOLIS -- There was a reason why the Tigers went to Brayan Villarreal for the eighth inning on Friday instead of sticking with Octavio Dotel. And it had little to do with Villarreal's strikeout potential. It had more to do with soreness in Dotel's right biceps.
It essentially set up a quandary for manager Jim Leyland and Dotel: They could try to stretch him through the eighth inning knowing that a worsening of the injury could sideline Dotel for the rest of the regular season, or they could pull him and take their chances with their remaining options. In the end, they remained cautious with Dotel.
"I don't want it [to get] worse," Dotel said. "It's better to wait a little bit."
With Al Alburquerque on rest after pitching 2 1/3 innings on Wednesday, Villarreal came in and allowed two runs in a 4-2 defeat.
Dotel indicated he was fine to pitch on Saturday.
Tigers third catcher Bryan Holaday returned home to Texas to be with his wife for the birth of their child. That made Don Kelly the team's emergency catcher again, at least for a day or two.
Given some recent situations, Leyland was asked if he believed every hitter should be able to lay down a bunt if the situation calls for it. "The real answer should be yes, that a big leaguer should be able to lay down a bunt," Leyland said. "But I don't believe that."
Quintin Berry swiped second base in the fifth inning of Saturday's 6-4 win over the Twins for his 21st stolen base in as many attempts. If he isn't caught stealing in Detroit's final four games, he'll become just the third Major Leaguer since at least 1950 to steal 21 or more bases in a season without being caught all year, according to STATS.