6/17/2013 7:36 P.M. ET
Tigers find themselves riding closer carousel
By Jason Beck and Bobby Nightengale / MLB.com
DETROIT -- If the Tigers' closer situation is starting to feel like a soap opera to you, manager Jim Leyland can relate.
When Leyland was asked Monday afternoon how he would handle the ninth inning, he made the analogy.
"This is 'Days of Our Lives,' boys," Leyland said. "We'll find out tonight."
To call it a soap opera might be dramatic, but to call it day to day might not be. Three different Tigers relievers have tried to protect a lead to open the ninth inning. Drew Smyly faced the leadoff man on Wednesday in Kansas City, Jose Valverde pitched the ninth with a four-run lead on Friday at Minnesota, then Joaquin Benoit stayed in to finish the save against the Twins on Sunday.
In both Smyly's and Benoit's cases, they stayed in after the eighth inning to face either a left-handed batter or a switch-hitter. Left-handers aren't exactly torching Valverde, batting .231 (7-for-32), but three of those seven hits have been home runs.
If Valverde is having continued trouble with the splitter, that could be a bigger factor. According to STATS, opposing hitters have swung and missed at just 17.2 percent of Valverde's fastballs this season. On fastballs in the strike zone, that swing-and-miss rate drops to just 9.2 percent.
Nothing at this point is set in stone.
"I have a thought process before the game," Leyland said, "but sometimes that changes. If you look at what happened yesterday, their lineup that happened to come up in that inning dictated that. I thought Benoit's repertoire was better for that."
Tigers put Anibal, Avila on 15-day disabled list
DETROIT -- Something didn't seem right in Anibal Sanchez's start against the Twins on Saturday. It turns out the concern was shared by the Tigers, who placed the right-hander on the 15-disabled list Monday with a strained right shoulder along with catcher Alex Avila with a deep bruise on his left forearm.
Sanchez was pulled after 3 2/3 innings and 72 pitches Saturday, after his velocity was down. According to Fangraphs, his fastball averaged 89.5 mph, the slowest he's thrown in a game this season. Sanchez was scratched as a precautionary measure from his previous start on June 9 due to muscle stiffness near his shoulder.
"He can't pitch like that [referring to his lower velocity]," head athletic trainer Kevin Rand said. "The thing is to make sure we get him right."
Avila left Sunday's game after being hit by a 93-mph sinker in the ninth inning.
"I think they both will be ready in two weeks," manager Jim Leyland said before Monday's game against the Orioles.
The Tigers did an MRI on Sanchez's shoulder Sunday, and it showed no structural damage. The team is waiting to do X-rays on Avila's left arm, but a preliminary scan came back negative.
"I don't think it's broken," Avila said, "but obviously it's something that'll probably take a few days and we can't leave the team short-handed.
"My arm was pretty swollen, tough to move, tough to grip anything."
Outfielder Avisail Garcia and catcher Bryan Holaday were called up from Triple-A Toledo. Garcia hit .288 with two home runs and 10 RBIs in 24 games before being sent down to the Minors on Friday to make room for center fielder Austin Jackson, who returned from the DL. Holaday went 3-for-12 in six games for the Tigers last season, and he was hitting .259 with two home runs and 15 RBIs at Toledo this year.
Holaday will share time behind the plate with the switch-hitting Brayan Pena. Holaday had a .308 batting average with a .410 slugging percentage against left-handed pitchers at Toledo. Pena has fared better as a lefty against right-handed pitchers, batting .375 with both of his home runs from that side of the plate.
"[Holaday's] got real good energy, he's a real good catcher, he throws real good and he's a tough guy," Leyland said. "He'll fight his at-bats, and we'll see what he can do while we're waiting for Alex to get back."
Left-hander Jose Alvarez will replace Sanchez in the rotation against the Red Sox on Thursday and will be called up prior to the game. Alvarez allowed one run in six innings while striking out seven in his last spot start for Sanchez on June 9 against the Indians.
Aggressiveness helping Holaday at plate
DETROIT -- Bryan Holaday entered the season as a defensive-only catcher, and he'll always be known as a defense-first backstop. So far, though, he's holding his own at the plate.
He isn't on the offensive tear he was enjoying last month, when he hit .307 at Triple-A Toledo with a .354 on-base percentage. Still, his .259 average and .702 OPS with the Mud Hens would both be the highest for a season in his professional career.
Holaday credits a more aggressive approach at the plate.
"I'm not trying to do much," Holaday said, "but just be more aggressive when I get my pitch and take a good swing at it rather than waiting until I have two strikes, like I did last year. I've worked with [Mud Hens hitting coach] Bull [Durham] down at Toledo, and that's the main thing."
Tigers sign 39th overall Draft pick Knebel
DETROIT -- The Tigers added to their Draft signings by agreeing to terms with Corey Knebel, the 39th overall selection in the First-Year Player Draft two weeks ago.
The former University of Texas closer said on Draft night that he expected a deal to be completed shortly. It took a little longer than fellow Tigers first-round pick Jonathon Crawford, but Knebel is in the fold. Baseball America first reported the deal Monday.
Knebel was signed at slot, which Major League Baseball pegged at just over $1.4 million.
Tigers vice president of amateur scouting David Chadd said earlier this month that the team envisions Knebel as a starter. For the time being, though, he'll begin his pro career in the bullpen. Knebel is eventually expected to join Crawford and other Tigers Draft picks at short-season Class A Connecticut, but will begin working out in Lakeland, Fla.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. Bobby Nightengale is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.