4/25/2013 7:34 P.M. ET
Leyland tells Villarreal what to impove upon
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
DETROIT -- Tigers manager Jim Leyland said he had a "very cordial and very nice and very simple and very honest" meeting with Brayan Villarreal upon his option to Triple-A Toledo on Tuesday night. He didn't mince words on what he needed to do to stick in the big leagues.
"You've got to command your fastball better, and you've got to get more consistency with your slider," Leyland said he told Villarreal. "I mean, that was a no-brainer."
That doesn't mean Leyland has frowned on Villarreal as a relief prospect. If he had, he wouldn't have pitched him so often last week. The consistency, however, is an issue.
"Villarreal was at times lights-out in Spring Training, at times lights-out last year," Leyland said. "Right now he's helter-skelter, throwing hard, not quite sure where it's going. He needs to continue to develop that slider where he gets it in a groove and he's consistent with it, and he needs to learn how to put hitters away when he gets ahead."
The example for that was his April 10 outing against the Blue Jays, when he walked all three batters he faced. He had two-strike counts on all of them.
Martinez purposely avoids contact to avert injury
DETROIT -- Before Victor Martinez blew out his left knee in offseason workouts in January 2012, he initially tweaked his knee trying to slow up on a play at the plate in Kansas City on Aug. 6, 2011. He was limited to designated hitter after that, and he hasn't caught a game in the big leagues since.
It had to seem awfully familiar, then, when Royals right fielder Jeff Francoeur's throw easily beat him home in the third inning Wednesday night. This time, Martinez didn't even try to make a quick stop. He simply turned right, bypassed home plate and kept on running to the dugout.
"I saw the catcher getting the ball and I was almost halfway to the plate," Martinez said. "There's no reason to run over the catcher, no reason to try to do anything stupid. I want to keep playing baseball."
It was a rare sight, even with the recent debate around the league on how to limit the damage of home-plate collisions. For Martinez, it might not be the last time.
"Trust me, it was a really long year for me last year, so I won't do anything stupid," he said. "If I'm out, I'm out. If I'm safe, I'm safe."
That's fine with his manager.
"The best thing about it was, he was out so far that there wasn't going to be a collision or anything," Jim Leyland said.
As for third-base coach Tom Brookens' call to send Martinez, Leyland said he probably got too enthusiastic about testing Francoeur with two outs to make an accurate throw.
Tight hip isn't expected to keep Alburquerque out
DETROIT -- Reliever Al Alburquerque said Thursday morning his hip, which tightened up on him during the seventh inning Wednesday night, feels fine now and he should be able to pitch once he loosens it up.
Manager Jim Leyland wasn't sure about Alburquerque's status, but gave him the day off in Thursday's 8-3 loss to the Royals.
Alburquerque was nearly finished with his second inning, having retired the first two batters in the seventh, when Leyland and head athletic trainer Kevin Rand noticed something amiss.
"He got a knot in his hip," Leyland said Wednesday night. "Fortunately it was nothing with his arm, but he kind of felt it on a pitch in the flexor area and then it grabbed him. I was real suspicious when I saw him throwing to the last batter."
Alburquerque said he was fine and continued to pitch, but left following his second straight two-out walk, as Leyland opted for Joaquin Benoit against the Royals' Mike Moustakas.
Alburquerque has recorded at least five outs and 20 pitches in each of his last three outings, but has shown no ill effects of the increased workload. He has had at least two days of rest between each of those outings. His 26 pitches on Wednesday were a season high.
"I don't expect it to be anything," Leyland said of the injury. "It's not the arm, and certainly that's a good sign."
Garcia to begin Minor League rehab assignment
DETROIT -- Avisail Garcia's Spring Training injury pretty much cost him a month, but he's finally back in game action. The Tigers' No. 3 prospect, who began the season on the 15-day disabled list with a bruised right heel, was scheduled to begin a Minor League rehab assignment on Thursday with Class A Lakeland.
Garcia can spend up to 20 days rehabbing before the Tigers have to make a roster move to keep him playing. Detroit still has two Minor League options left on him, so he could head to Triple-A Toledo without any trouble.
The 21-year-old injured his heel lunging for first base on a ground ball during a Spring Training game in mid-March. Head athletic trainer Kevin Rand explained later that it was a severe contusion, enough that Garcia had to use crutches for several days.
Reliever Below scooped up by Miami
DETROIT -- So much for the Tigers holding onto lefty swingman Duane Below. The Miami Marlins claimed the 27-year-old on waivers Thursday and optioned him to Triple-A New Orleans.
The Tigers designated Below's contract for assignment on Wednesday to make room for closer Jose Valverde on the 40-man roster. Though there was no role anytime soon for Below in Detroit, he had a place as an insurance starter if/when the Tigers' rotation suffers an injury.
Below went 1-2 with a 2.10 ERA at Triple-A Toledo this season after the Tigers sent him out from big league camp in mid-March. His record belies his secondary stats, including 15 hits allowed over 25 2/3 innings. He walked four and struck out 15.
Below joins a New Orleans rotation that includes another former Tiger, Jacob Turner.
His loss means the Tigers will have to find another starter for their rotation at Triple-A Toledo. Evan Reed, whom the Tigers claimed from the Marlins three weeks ago, has started in the Minors in the past but has had success pitching in the Toledo bullpen. So has Luke Putkonen, who has been stretched out in long relief. Australian Warwick Saupold has had a strong opening month at Double-A Erie, but the 23-year-old struggled in his last start and has very limited experience above A-ball.
• Top prospect Nick Castellanos hit a two-run homer deep to left-center field as part of a 3-for-3, two-walk, three-RBI game on Wednesday afternoon for Triple-A Toledo in a 9-8 loss at Durham. Castellanos is 5-for-11 with two doubles and two homers over his last three games through Wednesday, raising his batting average from .225 to .256.
• Tigers baserunning consultant Jeff Cox, who spent Spring Training in camp working with Austin Jackson and Andy Dirks, is in town to continue his work. He was at the ballpark on Thursday, and is expected to remain with the team this homestand. Cox was also with the team last weekend in Anaheim, close to his Southern California home.
• It didn't take long for Jose Valverde to take over his old corner locker. The former and new Tigers closer, signed to a Major League contract on Tuesday, got his old spot back by exchanging lockers with Anibal Sanchez.