BOSTON -- The Tigers went into the postseason hoping they could get Phil Coke and Bruce Rondon back from their injury woes if they advanced. They went 1-for-2 in that regard.
With the left-handed bats of the Red Sox looming in the American League Championship Series, the Tigers are hoping that Coke's return can make a difference in their bullpen. He hasn't pitched in a game in more than three weeks, but his numbers against Red Sox hitters made it worth the shot.
Coke hasn't pitched since Sept. 18, hindered by a forearm flexor injury that he said had been bothering him well before that. When he reported to the Tigers' Florida instructional league team in Lakeland to work out, his return seemed like a long shot. A combination of rest and treatment, however, freed up the tightness in his arm to that point that he could throw.
Less than two weeks later, he's good enough to give a shot. Thus, the Tigers added him to the ALCS roster, removing Luke Putkonen. That gives Detroit three lefty relievers in a seven-man bullpen, but Jose Alvarez is considered a long reliever, while Drew Smyly doesn't have the track record.
Coke went 0-5 with a 5.40 ERA in the regular season, allowing 43 hits over 38 1/3 innings. That includes a career-worst .299 (23-for-77) average allowed to left-handed hitters. However, nobody wearing the Old English D has held down Boston's lefty hitters like him.
David Ortiz is 2-for-18 with four strikeouts against Coke, though Ortiz got him for a go-ahead RBI single on June 20 at Comerica Park. Jacoby Ellsbury is 1-for-11 with four strikeouts, including 0-for-10 since 2009. By contrast, Ortiz and Ellsbury went 4-for-7 combined against Smyly, 2-for-5 this season in Smyly's current role.
A healthy Rondon with a 101-mph fastball would've given Leyland a chance to mix and match even more, but that's a long way off. Rondon is working out in instructional league, but he is not throwing. He's still working his way back from the elbow inflammation that sidelined him for most of September, save for a three-strikeout, 10-pitch inning Sept. 24 at Minnesota that briefly raised hopes he could be a huge part of the Tigers' playoff push.
Rondon's continued absence likely means more opportunities for Al Alburquerque, whose slider had helped him recapture his role as Detroit's strikeout specialist. He hasn't pitched since taking the walk-off loss in Game 2 of the Division Series in Oakland, where he gave up back-to-back singles in the ninth after racking up back-to-back strikeouts in the eighth.
Hunter confident he'll continue to play after 2014
BOSTON -- When Torii Hunter signed with the Tigers in mid-November, there was some thought in the 38-year-old outfielder's mind that this would be it. He'd play out the two years in his contract, which pays him $26 million, and then call it a career after 18 seasons.
Asked Friday, prior to his team's American League Championship Series workout at Fenway Park, if he plans on retiring after the 2014 season, Hunter said: "Nope. I think I'm going to play five more years. I'm 28, man!"
The last part was a joke, and the media contingent laughed, but Hunter wants to stay with the Tigers a little longer and is certain that next season won't be his last in the big leagues.
"No, it won't be. It won't be," Hunter said. "I want to play past that contract."
And why not? In many ways, Hunter has defied the aging process. Over the last four years, he's averaged 148 games while transitioning into an above-average defensive right fielder. And over his last two years, he's had arguably his best offensive seasons while settling into the No. 2 spot for the Angels and Tigers, sporting a combined .308/.349/.459 slash line.
"Are you surprised?" Hunter playfully asked a reporter at Friday's media scrum. "I'm not surprised. You just look at family members. You look at my daddy -- 63, 64 years old, and he's point guard in city league basketball. That's pretty good."
Then he paused, brushed his fingers across his eyebrows and pretended to look in a mirror.
"I look good, I can't help it."
"I try to keep myself in shape," Hunter said. "I work out, I get myself prepared, I'm a lot smarter at the plate, I'm a lot smarter playing in the field. When you're younger, you just go out and you play, you go wild. But now I study, I look at percentages, I look at different things like that and prepare myself for the test so I won't fail. I eat right, I sprint, I still keep my fast-twitch muscles. I do everything I can to prepare myself for the game that day."
Scherzer, Verlander and Fister round out rotation
BOSTON -- Tigers manager Jim Leyland announced on Friday that right-hander Max Scherzer will get the start in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series against Boston.
Scherzer will be followed by former Cy Young winner Justin Verlander in Game 3, while sinkerballer Doug Fister gets the call in Game 4 at Comerica Park.
The decision ensures that Verlander will take the mound on normal rest Tuesday night and Scherzer also receives four days off following his relief appearance in Game 4 of the AL Division Series against Oakland.
"This is the Final Four," Leyland said of the upcoming matchup against Boston. "They're putting a real good team out there and we're putting a real good team out there. They're putting a real good pitcher out there and we're putting a real good pitcher out there. That's what the Final Four is supposed to be."
Detroit's starting pitching will be key to any potential success against the Red Sox. The Tigers possess two of the top pitchers in the game with Scherzer and Verlander, while Game 1 starter Anibal Sanchez is fresh off a season in which he led the league in ERA (2.57).
For Scherzer, it means he'll start on the road once more for Game 2, and would do so again if the series heads back to Boston for Game 6. Statistically, it plays to his strength.
Scherzer went 9-2 with a 2.28 ERA on the road in the regular season, including a .915 WHIP and an average of just under seven innings a start. Then he delivered seven innings of two-run ball in Oakland to take Game 1 of the ALDS, striking out 11 Athletics.
Boston appears to hold an advantage in the bullpen, which will make the performance of Detroit's staff even more crucial. That's nothing new for this organization, but the Tigers appear well equipped to handle the pressure, considering they led the AL in strikeouts (981) and innings pitched (1,023).
Despite leading the Red Sox by a decent margin in all of those categories, the Tigers aren't about to take anything for granted, considering their offense will also face tough at-bats against the likes of Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey and Jake Peavy.
"Both clubs have good rotations," Leyland said. "They both have four veteran pitchers. There are no breathers. You've got guys with good stuff and the ability to shut you down. You know these are going to be close games. It's not going to be like the regular season where you are hoping for a five-spot in the third inning and can cruise from there."
Peralta ready for challenge of Green Monster
BOSTON -- Outfield novice Jhonny Peralta faces a big challenge in his new role. He is expecting to play left field for Game 1 on Saturday, and that means standing in the shadow of the Green Monster.
Handling Fenway Park's left-field wall -- 37 feet high and just over 300 feet from home plate down the line -- can be a daunting experience for experienced left fielders. For somebody who just switched to the position and is learning on the fly, it has the potential for a mishap at the wrong time.
"It's going to be different," said Peralta, who got his first exposure to Fenway Park during Friday's workout. "I need to practice on the fly balls and reading the ball off the wall. The big thing is I know it's close. I need to figure out how far I can go and when the ball goes off the wall, see how to react."
By using Peralta in left field, the Tigers get his bat in the lineup and are able to use defensive whiz Jose Iglesias at shortstop. Peralta lost his job at shortstop when he was suspended for 50 games for Major League Baseball's Drug Treatment and Prevention Policy. He was activated three games before the end of the season and the Tigers immediately put him in the outfield.
Peralta played shortstop in Game 5 of the American League Division Series against the Athletics, but manager Jim Leyland said Iglesias will start there on Saturday against Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester. Leyland has not said who will play left field, but Peralta is a right-handed hitter who is 7-for-25 with two home runs off Lester. Don Kelly and Andy Dirks, both left-handed hitters, are his other options.
Fister an option to pinch-run in late innings
BOSTON -- Tigers manager Jim Leyland knew he wasn't going to need extra pitchers in his bullpen for Game 5 of the American League Championship Series. So he had one ready to help on the basepaths.
If the Tigers and A's were locked in a close game in the late innings, Doug Fister was available as a pinch-runner. Leyland said he told Fister before the game to be ready just in case.
It would have taken quite a situation to put Fister on the bases. For one, the Tigers are carrying a pinch-running specialist on their bench in rookie infielder Hernan Perez. For another, most of the players the Tigers would pinch-run for are the same players they would keep in the game in extra innings for their bats.
Still, it's an idea worth stowing away for future reference, especially if the Tigers advance to the World Series and lose the designated hitter under National League rules.
Fister has never appeared in a game as a pinch-runner, but he's 4-for-15 as a hitter, so he knows his way around the bases.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.