LAKELAND, Fla. -- Bruce Rondon gave up his first run in six outings since making an adjustment to his delivery two weeks ago, but the bulk of the damage came on ground-ball singles through a group of Minor League infielders.
Rondon pitched Thursday's ninth inning with a five-run deficit and got a hard-hit flyout deep to center field from Rick Ankiel. Once J.D. Martinez fought off a 100-mph fastball to flare a line-drive single to right, however, Houston put together three straight singles, the last of them a ground ball to short to plate a run.
Rondon kept the damage at that with an inning-ending double play after following a 99-mph fastball with an 88-mph changeup to put Marwin Gonzalez in an 0-2 count.
"In fairness, he was working with a little bit of a younger catcher there [Curt Casali], and he was stuck on a little bit of fastball," manager Jim Leyland said. "I mean, he did find out what we've talked about all along -- 100 means nothing up here unless you have something else to go with it. You have to throw something else over the plate, and I think he has that capability. I think he's been showing lately he has the capability to do that, so that's OK."
V-Mart could see time behind the plate this season
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Manager Jim Leyland is focused on having Victor Martinez be his primary designated hitter this season, but he isn't ruling out the former All-Star catcher getting back behind the plate at some point.
In fact, he sounded very much as though he's anticipating this when the Tigers don't have the DH slot to use.
"Eventually, at some point, if he's real healthy, he could catch a game in Interleague Play," Leyland said. "That's down the road. I don't want to make a big deal about that, because we've laid low on that. But is it a possibility? Yeah, down the road.
"It is going to happen for sure? I can't answer that, but I think it's a strong possibility. If you felt like there was some nasty, nasty left-hander and Victor was healthy enough and you felt like you weren't risking anything, you might do it. And he'll want to do it, I know that."
Martinez has not caught in a game this spring, and probably won't, but Leyland said he has worked out behind the plate.
The Tigers had Martinez catch some games during Interleague Play two years ago, shifting Alex Avila to third base on some days and completely sitting him on others. That, however, was the old format, in which Interleague games were concentrated into one weekend in May and a few weeks in June.
This is the first year Interleague games are spread out over the full schedule. The Tigers' first National League series comes up in late April, when the Braves go to Detroit. Their first games in NL cities without the DH will be on May 7-8 in Washington, and another two-game set comes up at the end of that month, in Pittsburgh.
After that they don't have to worry about NL rules until late August, when they visit the Mets. The big worry, though, will come with the regular season's final three games, in Miami. So it's possible the American League Central could be decided without the DH in play.
Given that, it makes sense that the Tigers will not rule out the idea. It also makes sense for Detroit to field the best lineup it can in the most important games, whether that lineup includes Martinez and/or Avila.
Dombrowski says no deal proposed with Padres
LAKELAND, Fla. -- While trade rumors continue to swirl regarding Rick Porcello, one particular suggestion caught a decent amount of attention on Thursday afternoon. It was a tweet from MLB Network Radio host Jim Bowden, citing a Tigers source, that said the team had proposed two offers that were rejected by the Padres -- one for their closer, Huston Street, the other for reliever Luke Gregersen.
President/general manager Dave Dombrowski, however, told the Detroit News he hasn't made such a proposal. In fact, he said, he hasn't proposed any Porcello deal.
"It's simply not right," Dombrowski told the paper. "Does it mean I don't listen? No. You always listen to what people have to say. Is it going to happen? Most likely not."
That backs up what Dombrowski said to reporters last week, that the uptick in trade talks is mainly teams reaching out.
"It's more people calling us at this point," Dombrowski said at the time.
A report from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch included the Cardinals among the teams taking a look at Porcello, who's competing with Drew Smyly for the fifth spot in the rotation. Porcello hadn't allowed a run all spring until surrendering an unearned run in his seventh and final inning on Wednesday in a Minor League start on the back fields at Tigertown.
Two knees, two tales for Berry, Dirks
LAKELAND, Fla. -- On the day Quintin Berry re-entered the competition for the fourth outfielder, back after missing most of the week with tendinitis in his left patella, Andy Dirks was out of action while the swelling lingered in his right knee from Tuesday's collision with the left-field wall.
Dirks was hoping he could be ready to play as soon as Friday. As of Thursday afternoon, he was on the travel list for that day's game against the Nationals in Viera, Fla.
Berry was able to alleviate the soreness in his knee through a combination of stretching and medication, and said it has been a "trial and error" process to find a program that works.
"As long as I keep it loose, I should be fine," Berry said.
Alvarez has become a bullpen contender
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Two days ago, left-hander Jose Alvarez was supposedly about to get stretched out for a starting assignment at Triple-A Toledo. Now he has all the appearances of a contestant for a second lefty relief role in the bullpen.
He's still in big league camp, and he's on the travel list to pitch in relief on Friday against the Nationals. Whether he's in serious contention for a bullpen spot is something manager Jim Leyland isn't telling, but he isn't downplaying what the lefty has done.
"I think it's fair to say he's made a good impression," Leyland said.
Alvarez has piled up seven innings of work, with eight hits, one earned run, a walk and five strikeouts. Most of his appearances have been in late innings, when teams usually have their reserves in, and almost all of them came in the first half of camp. If he pitches on Friday as scheduled, it'll be just his second appearance since March 8.
Garcia off crutches, but no timetable for return
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Avisail Garcia was off his crutches and putting weight on his right foot on Thursday for the first time since he bruised his right heel last Saturday. However, he has no timetable for a return just yet, and there's no certainty he'll be back by the end of camp, a week from Saturday.
"I want to feel nothing [painwise] before I start playing," Garcia said.
A bigger concern than missed time now is a lingering injury that sticks with him into the season. He does not want to play for a week and then feel it again, he said.
Even if Garcia returns soon, he appears unlikely to win a reserve job in the outfield. His return next week could end up deciding whether he's optioned to Toledo or begins the season on the Major League disabled list.
Leyland making one last push to prepare players
LAKELAND, Fla. -- When manager Jim Leyland said that the last week and a half of camp will go by quickly, with so much to do, he wasn't just talking about player evaluation. The Tigers are undertaking one final stretch to get their players ready for the season, through both fundamental work and full games.
Leyland put his pitchers through another round of fielding practice on Thursday afternoon, a drill that usually gets lost after the early days of camp. Moreover, he plans on having his position players run from home to third at game speed before their next home game, on Saturday.
"We'll have everybody run a triple," Leyland said. "That's a long way from home to third, and that's what you've got to be able to do. We'll do some things to loosen up before, but we will run one triple for endurance.
"I'm not being funny. We've talked about it before."
It's something Leyland says they've done. More often, though, they've run singles and doubles, then run from second to home.
As for playing time, Leyland plans on playing each of his regulars for nine innings three times before the team breaks camp. With that in mind, almost the full roster will make the two-day trip to Port St. Lucie and Jupiter on Sunday and Monday to face the Mets and Cardinals, respectively. The one exception will be Prince Fielder, who will play on Sunday but not Monday.
"You could conceivably go to Minnesota on Opening Day and play 12 innings," Leyland said.
Leyland wants better command from Alburquerque
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Manager Jim Leyland was looking for better command out of his high-strikeout specialist, Al Alburquerque, after his three-walk, four-run, one-out performance last Sunday. He didn't see it on Thursday night.
"No, I did not," Leyland said. "I saw some hanging sliders and not very good command at all."
Statistically, the command was better, in that there no walks. From a damage standpoint, though, he gave up a leadoff single and a two-run homer, both off sliders.
Alburquerque was having a very good spring up until last weekend, putting together eight innings of one-run ball on four hits with 12 strikeouts through last Friday. At this point the Tigers have to figure out if this is a brief blip, a mechanical issue or something else.
Whatever it is, Leyland didn't hide his displeasure, even if it wasn't directed at Alburquerque.
"Some guys need to step it up," Leyland said. "We'll find out. Performances are starting to get evaluated. It's getting late."
• Hitting coach Lloyd McClendon became a March Madness reference on Thursday afternoon during CBS' broadcast of the Michigan State-Valparaiso game. After the first TV timeout, the screen displayed quick facts about Valparaiso, including notable alumni. McClendon topped the list, followed by Bryce Drew, the school's basketball coach, who hit the buzzer-beating jumper to beat Mississippi in 1998. McClendon said that he heard about the publicity soon enough.