DET@SEA: Coke works out of a jam in the ninth

HOUSTON -- Tigers manager Jim Leyland said Sunday that left-hander Phil Coke is expected to come off the 15-day disabled list before right-hander Octavio Dotel.

Coke was placed on the DL April 26 with a left groin strain, and Dotel placed on the DL April 20 with inflammation in his right elbow.

Dotel is eligible to come off the disabled list, but he has yet to start a rehab assignment in the Minors.

"I don't know the answer to that," Leyland said of Dotel's schedule. "I think Coke is making a lot of progress. That one will probably be a little quicker.

"I'm not really sure about Dotel. On the trainer's sheet last night, he was pretty good. But I can't say for sure when he'll rehab."

Neither reliever has been very effective this season. Coke was 0-3 with an 8.31 ERA in nine games with the Tigers, and Dotel has no decisions and a 13.50 ERA in six games.

"I don't worry about that," Leyland said of their return. "That will take care of itself and I've got to worry about what we've got. You never know because it's a freaky game, but our bullpen is back in order pretty good now."

Detroit's bullpen allowed only one run in 11 innings in the first three games of the series in Houston, and that was by Al Alburquerque in the bottom of the ninth of Saturday's 17-2 win.

"They scored a run, but that's OK," Leyland said. "It's hard for a guy to pitch when it's 17-1. He did fine."

Torii has eyes on the ultimate prize

DET@HOU: Hunter goes 4-for-5 against the Astros

HOUSTON -- The ring is the thing for Detroit outfielder Torii Hunter.

The 37-year-old Hunter has been named to four All-Star Games in his 15 full seasons in the Major Leagues. He has made the playoffs six times. But he has never won a World Series. He has never even played in a World Series.

"What keeps me going is the ring," he said. "I really want to get to that World Series and get a ring.

"At the same time, because of who I am, I'm going to play the game hard, play it the right way and have fun. I will never look back and say I did not have fun, or I didn't play hard."

Hunter needs only two more home runs to reach 300 for his career.

"It would mean a lot. Hopefully, I can get two over the next two years," he said with a laugh. "It's a great personal feat. It would be awesome. At the same time, I want something with the team. I've had the individual stuff.

"If I keep playing the game, I'm going to pass 300. I'm motivated by the ring. We had great talent with the Angels [last year]. The first part of April determined our outcome for the end of the season. We lost all those games in April we should have won. That's why I'm here now. Win today."

Hunter signed as a free agent with the Tigers.

What a contribution he has made. He went 4-for-5 on Saturday night, raising his average to .361.

"I don't have to swing hard anymore," he said. "I'm not a 3, 4, 5 guy. I like hitting second. I try to get on base for [Miguel] Cabrera, Prince [Fielder] and Victor [Martinez]. I don't have to swing as hard as I used to, and it helps me get base hits."

"Just look at the stats," manager Jim Leyland said of Hunter. "He's been a great addition. Four hits, two or three runs scored, that's the type of guy I like to have in the clubhouse. That's not to downplay that he's a total professional. He's a good personality."

Hunter fit in immediately with his new teammates.

"It's a good group of guys," he said. "They've been through the ringer together. They welcomed me with open arms. We're like family already. It's easy to fit in with guys like this so quickly."

Hunter could detect the camaraderie on the Tigers when he played the last five seasons with the Angels.

"Cabrera does not act like a Triple Crown winner," he said. "He's a big kid. Prince is the same way. Austin [Jackson] is a comedian. Even [Justin] Verlander, he's a comedian. Some of the things they say on the bench, you have no choice but to stay relaxed. It's so fun."

Hunter doesn't feel like the old school veteran.

"I tell people, 'Enjoy this game, because before you know it you'll be out of it,' " he said. "That's one thing Kirby [Puckett] told me, he and [Paul) Molitor: 'It goes fast, so have fun.'"

DH-less Tigers will sit V-Mart in Washington

DET@HOU: Martinez hits a two-run dinger in the ninth

HOUSTON -- Detroit manager Jim Leyland said he will use designated hitter Victor Martinez strictly as a pinch-hitter when the Tigers play under National League rules on Tuesday and Wednesday at Washington with no DH for the first time this year.

Martinez appeared in 28 of Detroit's first 29 games, starting 27 as the designated hitter and one at first base.

"He'll be coming off the bench to pinch-hit," Leyland said. "If you have a freak game, lopsided one way or the other, you might get Prince [Fielder] out of there after a few innings and play [Martinez] at first.

"That's the way it is. I don't know what else I can do. I can catch him, but I don't think that [will happen]."

Martinez, 34, spent most of his career in Cleveland and Boston as a catcher.

"We're lucky, because we have only two [in Washington] and two in Pittsburgh [May 29 and 30]," Leyland said.

The Tigers play Interleague games against Philadelphia and Washington at home at the end of July, and travel to New York to take on the Mets in August and end the season in Miami.

"Who knows, then you might do something," Leyland said of Martinez's status. "I don't want to lose him [in the starting lineup]. I can't do anything about it. I can't create a new rule."

Would he use Martinez to catch later in the season?

"At some point something could happen," Leyland said.

Martinez drove in four runs Saturday night with a double and home run in the 17-2 rout of the Astros. After an extremely slow start this season, he raised his average to .221.

Leyland did like the idea that with Martinez not starting, that will give him three switch-hitters on the bench, including infielder Ramon Santiago and catcher Brayan Pena.

Detroit will be using the designated hitter for home games against National League teams, but the pitchers must bat in NL ballparks.

Avila misses finale in Houston with illness

DET@HOU: Avila's towering homer gives Tigers the lead

HOUSTON -- Detroit catcher Alex Avila was out of the starting lineup for Sunday's finale of the four-game series at Houston because of illness. Backup Brayan Pena got the nod behind the plate.

"He's sick and will not be playing," manager Jim Leyland said. "I don't know what it is. He thought maybe he ate something. He was going to play."

Avila had started the first three games of the series and was not scheduled to get a day off this weekend. The Tigers, who begin a two-game series Tuesday at Washington, are off on Monday.

Leyland said after Saturday's game that he would play Avila in the finale because he wanted to keep his bat in the lineup.

Avila hit a two-run homer in the ninth inning on Friday night to beat Houston, 4-3. He went 2-for-5 on Saturday, plus a walk, in Detroit's 17-2 victory. He doubled in a run and scored twice.

Avila usually catches Sunday's starter Jason Verlander.