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03/16/09 8:25 PM ET

Perez making most of stars' absence

Veteran outfielder raps four hits in victory over Cardinals

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Timo Perez is not a complicated player. He's a left-handed line-drive hitter who will step to the plate swinging. He won't strike out a lot, but he won't draw an abundance of walks, either.

With the Tigers' entire starting outfield away at the World Baseball Classic, Perez is getting playing time and doing what he normally does. On Monday, he did it off Cardinals pitching for four hits in five plate appearances.

"You never know," Perez said. "Be ready."

The Tigers' situation with Perez is a little more complicated. They would love to have a left-handed bat on the bench, but Jeff Larish is the name that more often comes up. The 26-year-old Larish can play the corner infield positions as well the outfield corners. Perez, who turns 34 next month, is limited to the outfield.

That doesn't mean any knock against his hitting.

"Timo Perez is probably the best pinch-hitter we've got," manager Jim Leyland said Monday. "We said that in the morning. I mean, he's a prototype pinch-hitter: Go up there and let it fly. He isn't going to go up there looking around, waiting around. If he likes it and puts a swing on it, he whacks it. Sometimes it goes at somebody, sometimes it [falls] in.

"Truthfully, he's probably the best pinch-hitter we've got. But the fact of the matter is, how much do we pinch-hit?"

Not much. For an outfielder, moreover, pinch-hitting for Carlos Guillen, Curtis Granderson or Magglio Ordonez would be almost none.

It has little to do with his hitting. And considering Monday's performance, no one's bashing his hitting for now.

Perez led off the Tigers' effort with a home run to left off Cardinals starter Todd Wellemeyer. Two innings later, Perez went the other direction and one-hopped the fence in right-center field for an RBI triple that started Detroit's game-tying rally. Two more singles followed.

That's what Perez brings to the game. But with the emergence of left-handed hitters Larish, Clete Thomas and Matt Joyce last year, Perez was never brought to Detroit, spending the entire season at Triple-A Toledo instead. His .302 average with the Mud Hens last year cracked the International League's top 10, while his ratio of 11.35 plate appearances for every strikeout made him the toughest to fan in the league.

His situation might not be much different this year. But his game probably won't be, either.

"I'm a veteran," Perez said. "They have a lot of younger players. But you never know. The season is long. I'll be ready for a surprise. One day they might call me. You never know."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.