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10/11/11 9:05 PM ET

Zumaya delivers game ball; hopes to return

DETROIT -- This wasn't the way Joel Zumaya wanted to be coming to Comerica Park for a Tigers postseason game.

Of course he'd rather be warming up in the bullpen for a late-inning appearance. The Tigers would rather have him there, too, than greeting him as a guest. Injuries have detoured his career since his rookie season of 2006, when he looked like a dominant closer in waiting for the American League champions.

"You know, it chaps me in my butt a little bit that I'm not out here with the team," Zumaya said, "and I'm not capable of doing what I'm doing. But it does bring a lot of memories. I've been watching the team since Day 1, watching all of their games. ... It brought a lot of memories, especially when they clinched it. I wish I was there. It looks like it would be fun."

He hopes to be back again. His work this fall is raising his hopes, cautious as they are, that he might make it back.

Zumaya delivered the game ball to the mound for Game 3 of the American League Championship Series on Tuesday night. His usual entrance music for games he pitches played as he walked to the mound with a loud ovation from fans at Comerica Park, whom he then tried to make louder by raising his arms.

Zumaya missed this season with elbow soreness coming off surgery in the summer of 2010, but he has been able to rehab his elbow back to throwing shape rather than resorting to another surgery. He has been throwing off a mound at the Tigers' Spring Training complex in Lakeland, Fla., and is on track to throw in at least a couple games in the Florida instructional league. If all goes well, he'll then throw winter ball somewhere.

He's had enough comebacks and setbacks that he's almost sheepish talking about it. But even after all that, he can't hide his optimism.

"I want to say I feel terrible," Zumaya said. "Each time I say I feel good, I end up hurt."

Still, he added, "the ball is coming out easier than I've ever thrown. I'm throwing with less effort than I used to. I mean, more velocity [than recently]. I've been working on some pretty good changeups and breaking balls. Everything has fallen into place."

The key steps, though, are to come, and not just on the mound. Zumaya is a free agent this winter, and while the Tigers have put in their work to get Zumaya back throwing again, they haven't yet approached the idea of signing him for next season.

A successful winter ball stint could go a long way toward changing that. But a low-risk deal to bring in a reliever capable of throwing a 100-mph fastball could be appealing to a lot of teams. It's possible Zumaya, if he stays healthy, could pick his situation.

The way Zumaya sounds right now, he wants it to be here. The reception he has received since flying here last Saturday and being greeted by one passenger after another on his flight has had an impact on him.

"I don't know where I'm going to end up next year," he said. "Hopefully it's here. I love this place."

Dirks excited to make first postseason start

DETROIT -- Since being called up and making his Major League debut in May, Andy Dirks has remained level-headed and has tried to take everything one game at a time.

When it was announced late Tuesday that Dirks would be starting in place of the injured Delmon Young, Dirks expressed a little more excitement for his first postseason start in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series.

"It's exciting to get a start in a playoff game," he said. "But at the same time, it's another baseball game and we've just got to do our job."

Dirks hit .251 in 78 games this season and went 0-for-2 coming in as a pinch-hitter in Game 3. The decision to play Dirks was made a little easier with Colby Lewis, Texas' only righty starter, going for the Rangers. Manager Jim Leyland played Dirks almost exclusively against righties this season -- although he hit .238 against them.

Young went-0-for-4 in Game 2, but he struggled in the field. Dirks brings an upgrade in defense.

"Nobody wants to see anyone get hurt, but I come to the field every day anticipating playing and I'm ready," Dirks said.

With the way Young performed before being replaced in the game, Dirks knew he may be called upon.

"The thought had crossed my mind and I knew he was playing through some stuff the other day," he said. "That's just part of the game and I'm ready to play."

Lemon to throw out first pitch before Game 4

DETROIT -- With the Tigers working toward their first World Series championship since 1984, a member of that team will hope to bring some winning magic to the Tigers.

Outfielder Chet Lemon, who played nine seasons in a Tigers uniform, will throw out the first pitch for Game 4 of the American League Championship Series on Wednesday.

Lemon was an All-Star in the magical season of 1984, when the Tigers brought home a World Series championship for the first time since '68. He hit .263 in nine seasons with Detroit, before a spleen disease ended his career in the early '90s.

Also as part of the game's festivities, saxophonist and Detroit native Alto Reed will perform the national anthem. Reed is a member of Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band.

Leyland backs decision to stop Santiago at third

DETROIT -- Forget about Ramon Santiago scoring on Don Kelly's double into the right-field corner in the ninth inning during Game 2 of the American League Championship Series, manager Jim Leyland suggested Tuesday. The way Leyland saw the ball ricochet off the fence to Rangers right-fielder Nelson Cruz, it raised the question whether Austin Jackson is the only Tiger with enough speed to have probably scored on that play.

"I think so," Leyland said.

That doesn't necessarily mean he's the only Tiger who could have scored. Others, such as Andy Dirks, or maybe even Santiago, might have given the Rangers a test on that play and forced a strong, accurate throw home. In a game like that and with Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez due up, however, the decision wasn't worth the risk.

Leyland defended third-base coach Gene Lamont's choice Monday night, and he did it again Tuesday.

"It just came right back to [Cruz]," Leyland said. "It was hit like a rocket. That's what it is. Actually, if it was hit softer, it might have [scored Santiago]."

Lamont was booed by the crowd at Comerica Park during team introductions prior to Game 3 on Tuesday night.

Pitchers taking BP; Miggy working out at third

DETROIT -- With the World Series starting next week, the Tigers continued their preparations of potential moves in National League parks, whether in St. Louis or Milwaukee. Miguel Cabrera took another round of ground balls at third base, while pitchers took early batting practice before the full squad hit on the field.

At this point, third base doesn't appear to be a consideration for Cabrera anytime before that. Victor Martinez has a bruised big toe suffered on a foul tip at the end of the regular season that is believed to be still bothering him. Moreover, the only reason for the Tigers to shift would be to ensure Martinez is in the lineup to protect Cabrera.

To date, Martinez's presence hasn't made a tremendous impact in that regard. Cabrera entered Game 3 of the American League Championship Series having walked seven times, four of them intentional.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.