7/4/2013 7:37 P.M. ET
Avila seeing his opposite-field power return
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
TORONTO -- Turns out Alex Avila was serious when he said his work with hitting coach Leon Durham last week wasn't about any major overhaul. By the looks of his first two games back from the disabled list, his biggest step as a hitter was getting back to his old ways.
His two hits in as many nights were both smacked hard. But unlike much of his hitting this year, they were hits to the opposite field. He followed Tuesday's double off the left-field fence with a three-run homer to left-center on Wednesday.
"That's my natural swing," Avila said. "I mean, a lot of power is to the opposite field. I mean, in my career, at least half my home runs are to the opposite field. One thing I was definitely trying to do is get back to that and get back to what made me successful."
It's not quite that large of a percentage, but it's not far off. Fourteen of Avila's 46 career Major League home runs have gone out to left field, according to Fangraphs, compared with nine homers to center and 23 to right.
That's the way he hit two years ago, when he won the American League All-Star nod behind the plate on his way to a .295 average, .895 OPS, 33 doubles, 19 home runs and 82 RBIs. It's not the way he had been hitting this year.
According to hit charts from STATS, Avila hit more balls to left than to the other parts of the outfield two years ago, batting .346 to that area. He kept it up last year even during his offensive drop, hitting to that area 22 percent of the time and batting .368 when he did. His chart has been much more even this year around the outfield when he's gone there, but his groundball rate picked up at the expense of his power.
Infante off crutches, but shin injury keeps him out
TORONTO -- Omar Infante was able to move around the Tigers clubhouse without crutches on Thursday, which was an improvement from Wednesday night after Colby Rasmus' takeout slide at second base resulted in a left shin contusion.
Still, the Tigers didn't have a clearer idea of when Infante will be able to play.
"It appears to be a bruise," manager Jim Leyland said, "but those can get pretty sore and they can linger a while. You don't know for sure. I don't have much else for you."
Ramon Santiago started in Infante's place Thursday.
The Tigers haven't given an indication that a stint on the disabled list is a consideration, but the schedule could work to their advantage if they chose to make the move. Since the four-day All-Star break would count among the 15 days, Infante could miss two weeks while missing far fewer games.
Miggy gets rare day off in finale against Toronto
TORONTO -- And on the Tigers' seventh day on artificial turf, Miguel Cabrera rested.
It's not something he asked for while insisting he could play through a bad back, but it's something manager Jim Leyland felt he had to do.
"I made that decision," Leyland said Thursday. "I'll take the beating."
After watching Cabrera struggle through much of Wednesday's win over the Blue Jays, Leyland replaced him in the ninth inning, then made his intentions clear about Thursday's series finale.
"Cabrera should not play tonight," Leyland said. "I can honestly tell you that. He should not play, and that's a decision I made. He did not ask not to play. I'm sure he would play if I asked him. I made the decision, and I'll take the responsibility for it. He always wants to play.
"I made a managerial decision last night when I saw him, and the way he was hitting at home plate, and the way he was moving. I made a decision. It's our seventh straight game on turf. We're going to get into Cleveland real late at night."
Don Kelly started at third base in Cabrera's place.
Cabrera has missed one game in each of the last two seasons. He last sat out a game last Aug. 26 against the Angels, a game the Tigers won, 5-2, when Max Scherzer outpitched Ervin Santana. Jeff Baker started at third that day.
The Tigers won the one game Cabrera missed in 2011, too. That day, he was on paternity leave to be with his wife for the birth of their child, and the Tigers called up Omir Santos to give Alex Avila a much-needed day off. Doug Fister pitched well and the Tigers won a getaway game at Tampa Bay.
Cabrera was also out of the starting lineup in two other games in 2011, but ended up making a pinch-hit appearance in both.
Scherzer closing in on multiple milestones with hot start
TORONTO -- Roger Clemens isn't the only one with a mark in danger as Max Scherzer keeps on winning. Much like Scherzer's unbeaten start itself, the longer the research goes, the more numbers keep popping up.
Besides becoming Major League Baseball's first 13-0 starter since Clemens in 1986, and the fifth pitcher to do it in modern Major League history, Scherzer has also gone unbeaten in his last 18 starts since taking his last loss on Sept. 23, 2012. That ties the franchise mark held by Bobo Newsom in 1940. His standard lasted from April 25 to July 17 that season.
Beyond that, Scherzer's eight strikeouts continued his season-long stretch of starts with at least six strikeouts to 17 games in a row. Only Pedro Martinez's 29-game streak to open the 2000 season stands longer among American League starters from season's start.
In terms of his undefeated start to the season, if Scherzer were to equal Clemens' 14-0 start, he'd be one win away from tying the AL record, set by Johnny Allen for the Indians in 1937 and matched by Dave McNally for the Orioles in 1969. Rube Marquard holds the Major League record with a 19-0 start for the Giants in 1912. Marquard finished the season with a 26-11 mark.
Tigers ink four more international prospects
TORONTO -- The Tigers announced four more international signings on Thursday. Venezuelan right-handers Luis Ledezma and Wildenson Yanez both agreed to terms, along with Dominican shortstop Isrrael De La Cruz and Venezuelan catcher Jheyser Azuaje.
Ledezma is a lean righty with room to grow into his frame. He throws a heavy fastball with the potential for more power, and already good deception. Add in a good curveball and a changeup that he has worked to improve, and Ledezma brings a well-rounded package already at his age.
The Tigers see a strong foundation and a quick delivery in Yanez, whose fastball carries late movement to go with a changeup that complements it well and adds deception. He also has a sharp curveball. The secondary pitches in particular caught the Tigers' interest.
De La Cruz is a classic Dominican shortstop, wiry with good fielding skills. The Tigers also like his swing, which they see potentially producing gap power as he fills out and gets stronger.
Azuaje, the second Venezuelan catcher the Tigers signed this week, is a compact backstop who can hit for contact to all fields. His defense is expected to improve as he gets into the system and gets instruction.
As with the Tigers' other international signings, the deals are contingent on Major League Baseball's investigation to verify their identities and ages.
• Though the Tigers spent the Fourth of July in Canada, they still donned special Stars and Stripes caps to honor the holiday. The caps from New Era are part of MLB's ongoing efforts to raise money and awareness for Welcome Back Veterans, which addresses the needs of returning veterans and their families.
• Rick Porcello said there was no indication that his appeal of his six-game suspension would be wrapped up ahead of his scheduled start Friday in Cleveland. Thus, Porcello should be fine for the start, his first since he hit Ben Zobrist in the shoulder with a first-inning pitch Sunday at Tampa Bay and drew the suspension.
• Leyland and his former third-base coach, Gene Lamont, were able to share a chuckle in the dugout Wednesday after Tom Brookens hit the turf to get out of the way of a foul ball. "That's why Gene's on the bench," Leyland said of his former third-base coach. "Gene might still be laying there."