DETROIT -- The feeling of trepidation when Jose Valverde enters a game with a lead too large for a save is a familiar one for Tigers fans, who recall four-run leads turning into one- or two-run games before they're done. Right now, though, the Tigers want him in games like Tuesday, when they took a 6-2 lead against the Astros into the ninth.
Valverde talked on Sunday about not having a Spring Training. Games like Tuesday are about as close as he's going to get to camp work.
"We think we need to get him in better pitching shape -- not physical shape," manager Jim Leyland said. "He looks good physically. He's not too heavy or out of shape. … Valverde's in good shape, but not probably pitching shape. We felt like it's important to get him out there and pitch him a little bit, continue to build the arm strength up."
Valverde threw 10 pitches, eight for strikes, on his way to retiring the side in order in the ninth. He threw three splitters, including a called third strike on Carlos Pena to end the game.
That, arguably, is part of pitching shape.
"He threw some splits that we were tickled with," Leyland said. "Two of them were pretty darn good. And Sunday against Cleveland, it was cold, and he couldn't feel it, and that's why he didn't throw any."
Weather has been part of the reason why Valverde hasn't thrown many splitters. However, Valverde said he doesn't need it as much as he did in past years because of the sinker and cutter he's added over the past few years.
"Sometimes you have to throw your split more," Valverde said. "It's like when I was in Arizona, I had to throw my split and fastball a lot, because I don't throw a sinker. Right now, I throw a sinker and I throw a cutter. I don't need to throw my split-finger every pitch, because I have more pitches."
Tigers pitchers play role in infield shifts
DETROIT -- Some teams shift their infield defenses regularly for a hitter. The Tigers do theirs according to the pitchers.
They'll shift their infielders for a pull-happy hitter, but it's up to the pitchers if they want to do it.
"We basically let the pitchers decide if they want that or not," manager Jim Leyland said.
That's why the Tigers will change their defensive shifts for the same hitters from game to game. In the case of Astros slugger Carlos Pena, they changed it multiple times within the game on Tuesday.
They were shifted in the second inning, when Pena hit a line drive to left field as third baseman Miguel Cabrera, who was playing closer to second base, tried to run it down. Pena was clearly trying for the open field then, as he tried to lay down a bunt three pitches earlier.
The next time Pena came up leading off the fourth inning, the infield was not shifted.
"There was some confusion on that," Leyland said.
They were back to a shift later in the game, when Pena struck out in his final two at-bats.
"I'm not a big shift guy, personally," Leyland said. "Some teams are, and that's why I don't buy it. You can't have it both ways. Do you want to do it or not? Doug [Fister] saw that [they were] shifted on the bunt the first time up. Well, if you wanted to move them, you should have moved them.
"I don't play that in-between game. I don't buy that at all. You can't have them everywhere. We'll put them anywhere you want them."
Infante picks his time to steal wisely
DETROIT -- Omar Infante doesn't always have the green light to steal a base, he said. The batters behind him play a role in that. When he has a chance to go, however, he's a fairly aggressive runner.
On Tuesday, he stole second base without a throw, and it changed the tone of the decisive fifth inning that changed the course of the game. It wasn't a decision based on Astros starter Lucas Harrell not paying attention to him, he said. Infante stole second there because of the count.
With a 2-2 count to Don Kelly, Infante said, he knew Harrell was probably going to throw an offspeed pitch, giving him an extra split second before catcher Jason Castro could get a throw off.
It was Infante's second stolen base in as many attempts this season. He's 9-for-11 in regular-season steals since the Tigers reacquired him last July.
Infante jumped into the leadoff spot for Wednesday's series finale against the Astros.
Dotel has ways to go before returning
DETROIT -- Octavio Dotel was on the Comerica Park scoreboard Tuesday night during a between-innings segment and asked who the best singer on the team is. That's about as much as the Tigers will see of Dotel for a little while.
While the team prepares for a road trip to Texas and Cleveland, Dotel continues to try to work his way back from right elbow inflammation. He's supposed to wrap up his medicine regimen in the next couple days, after which the Tigers will see if he's pain-free and able to throw.
Even if Dotel is, it's not expected to be a quick path back to pitching shape.
"It's going to be a while before we see Dotel here, I would think," manager Jim Leyland said. "We could get a pleasant surprise, but I'm not expecting that."