6/10/2013 11:30 P.M. ET
V-Mart working to find some hard-hit luck
Tigers designated hitter enjoying successful start at plate in June
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
KANSAS CITY -- Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez is finally digging out his batting average from the early-season rut he found in his return from a season off. Realistically, though, he has been hitting the ball better than his average would suggest.
Manager Jim Leyland, has said repeatedly that Martinez hasn't had a whole lot of luck. The skipper won't find a stat for luck, but the statistics on hard-hit drives might be enough to back him up.
ESPN Stats and Information tracks the category with a category called hard-hit average, the percent of at-bats ending in a hard-hit ball, regardless of outcome. Entering Monday, three of the top four percentages among Major League players this season belong to Tigers.
Not surprisingly, Miguel Cabrera leads the pack at .276, while Prince Fielder is fourth. The shocking part is Martinez, who sits third at .250 behind only Cabrera and Toronto's Edwin Encarnacion.
Martinez is the only player in the top 14 whose batting average sits under .250. The way Martinez is hitting so far in June, that might not hold for long. His 10-for-30 performance through his first eight June games raised his average from .228 at the end of May to a season-high .242 on Monday.
Pena reunites with former Royals teammates
KANSAS CITY -- Brayan Pena was out to lunch with his old favorite pitcher, Bruce Chen, at Kansas City's Country Club Plaza, a shopping area across the street from the Tigers' team hotel. One of his new favorite pitchers, Justin Verlander, spotted them and pretended to cause a scene.
"There was a lot of people there. Justin saw me and he called me a traitor, right in the middle of the street," Pena said. "He's like, 'Traitor! Traitor!' Right outside in the middle of the street."
Pena was bound to get some grief like that regardless. Chen was Pena's best friend on the Royals, and Pena is set to be in Chen's wedding party when he gets married in the offseason, but he's still the enemy for a few days.
That said, Kansas City will always be special for Pena, who spent four seasons here (2009-12) after Royals general manager Dayton Moore plucked him off waivers from Atlanta. Pena became a free agent last winter and found an opportunity to catch a veteran squad in Detroit, but never felt slighted by Kansas City letting him go.
"It's one of those places where you meet a lot of people. I do have a lot of friends here, and I come here to visit them," Pena said. "The fans, they were great to me and my family, very respectful. It's something you can always carry with you, the appreciation. Some days, I was going 0-for-4, and some days, I was having good games, and they were always the same, and when you walk down the street, people respect you and recognize you.
"It's nice, man. That being said, like I talked to the boys out there [earlier Monday], I said, 'You know what, I know you guys are going to be good, but not until we win the World Series. You guys have to wait for your time.' And they were laughing."
One thing Pena will not miss about this place is the hot summer weather. This week will serve as a reminder.
"That's why I was eating a lot of ice cream [here]," Pena said. "And [Tigers strength and conditioning coach] Javair [Gillett] took that away from me in Detroit!"
Pena misses his Kansas City teammates, but he has formed friendships with new ones in Detroit. The ice cream is another story.
"Definitely miss the ice cream," he said.
Miggy has some fun with ex-Tiger Raburn
KANSAS CITY -- No, your eyes weren't fooling you. Miguel Cabrera apparently did throw something at Indians outfielder -- and former teammate -- Ryan Raburn as Raburn rounded third base on his game-tying homer on Sunday at Comerica Park.
Whatever it was, Raburn got a kick out of it.
"Miggy's my buddy," Raburn told MLB.com's Jordan Bastian on Monday. "It was kind of funny, because it kind of messed up my stride a little bit, and I almost missed third base. He's always kidding around, doing something. He's just a big kid."
Replays of the home run show Cabrera making a throwing motion in Raburn's direction as Raburn rounded third base. Raburn wasn't sure what it was.
"I'll ask him what he threw next time we play them," Raburn said. "If it was gum, it hit me right in the neck."
Cabrera is known for joking around with opposing players, from ex-teammates to sometimes complete strangers.
"Miggy's a good dude," said Raburn, who spent five seasons with Cabrera in Detroit. "He just has fun every time he goes out there. ... But when he's in that batter's box, with the feel he has, when that pitch is coming, it's time to go to work. But he's not afraid to be himself and make jokes and have fun. He's a character. It was always fun playing with him and being a teammate of his."
Jackson sees rehab action for Triple-A Toledo
KANSAS CITY -- Austin Jackson began his Minor League rehab assignment on Monday night with a start at designated hitter for Triple-A Toledo at Rochester.
The Tigers' center fielder and leadoff man, who has been out since May 14 with a pulled left hamstring, went 0-for-5 with three strikeouts in his first game in four weeks.
Beforehand, Detroit manager Jim Leyland said that while the hope is that Jackson could be ready to rejoin the Tigers for Friday's series opener at Minnesota, they could be flexible with the plan.
Jackson is expected to play about seven innings in center field for the Mud Hens on Tuesday. The Hens are off on Wednesday, so Jackson will rest before starting at DH or in center on Thursday at Syracuse.
What happens from there depends on how Jackson says his leg feels after running in game conditions.
Leyland searching for right-handed 'pen mix
KANSAS CITY -- Tigers manager Jim Leyland is still sorting out his bullpen, trying to get one more middle reliever going, but feels like he's getting there with the mix. He doesn't believe he needs Octavio Dotel, Al Alburquerque or Brayan Villarreal back to finish the job.
"It automatically gets better when Phil Coke starts throwing like he's throwing," Leyland said.
That doesn't solve the right-handed portion of the bullpen behind closer Jose Valverde and setup man Joaquin Benoit, but that doesn't put him on hold for Alburquerque. The reports on his work at Triple-A Toledo have been mixed, and they leave Leyland scratching his head a bit, still looking for signs of consistency.
"Alburquerque's caught on fire a little bit down there," Leyland said. "He's either walking them or striking them out. He walks three and strikes out three. That's just what it seems like."
The fact that the Tigers have called up multiple right-handed relievers since Alburquerque's demotion, most recently Evan Reed, signifies they're looking for more out of him.
"I think if the situation presents itself, you just come in one day with the general manager and just sit and talk and you say, 'Let's pull the trigger,'" Leyland said. "But the reason for being down there is to eliminate the walks, so when you're still seeing those, it doesn't exactly make you want to hurry up. It doesn't seem like it's as urgent."
Reed joined the team on Monday for the second time this season. Leyland said he could use him anywhere from the third inning to the seventh to retire a right-handed hitter or two.
• Leyland said right-hander Anibal Sanchez is feeling fine, by all reports, and should be on track to make his next scheduled start this weekend in Minnesota. Sanchez was scratched from Sunday's start against the Indians with stiffness around his upper back near his right shoulder.
• Leyland said he's considering starting Matt Tuiasosopo in Wednesday's series finale against Royals right-hander James Shields, who's currently holding left-handed hitters to a .198 average compared to .273 for righties. Shields has similar reverse splits for his career, but not nearly so big. Leyland isn't committed to the start yet, but said he's pondering it.