7/25/2013 7:12 P.M. ET
Tigers struggling to get through ninth with big leads
By Joey Nowak / MLB.com
CHICAGO -- The Tigers have had their share of trouble in the ninth inning this year. But their difficulties this week haven't been blown saves.
Manager Jim Leyland called it "unacceptable" that the Tigers haven't been able to easily get through the ninth inning of games that are by and large out of reach. The last two games against the White Sox, he's been forced to bring in closer Joaquin Benoit in non-save situations because other relievers have run into trouble.
And, as Leyland put it in not-so-gentle terms, he doesn't like to fool around in a ballpark like U.S. Cellular Field, where the ball can fly out at any moment.
"The last couple days, our bullpen, as it turned out they really did the job, but they didn't do the job," Leyland said.
Phil Coke and Bruce Rondon combined to pitch a one-run ninth on Monday. Al Alburquerque pitched a spotless eighth but ran into trouble in the ninth on Tuesday, forcing Leyland to go to Benoit with a six-run lead. He gave up a two-run double -- both runs were charged to Aburquerque -- for the final four-run margin.
On Wednesday, Luke Putkonen and Coke combined to allow a home run and single in the ninth before Benoit was brought in with a four-run lead.
Because he had to come in for the ninth in Tuesday and Wednesday's games, Benoit was unavailable to pitch on Thursday, regardless of the circumstances.
"Those consequences of the last couple nights put us in a little bit of a bind," Leyland said. "That's something that has to be addressed. ... I'm not upset about it, it's just a common fact. If we have to use our closer with five-, six-run leads in the ninth inning, we've got problems. That should not happen."
Hunter exits game due to sore left Achilles
CHICAGO -- Torii Hunter left Chicago with a bad case of buyer's remorse.
The Tigers' outfielder was forced out of Thursday's 7-4 loss to the White Sox with a sore left Achilles, but chalked it up to a new pair of dress shoes that left him sore all afternoon.
Hunter came out of the game after grounding out to shortstop in the eighth inning, but insists he won't miss any time. He left the clubhouse wearing a suit and black tennis shoes.
"I bought a pair of shoes and they might have been a little tight on the Achilles," Hunter said. "I was a little sore the whole game. Dress shoes, not my spikes -- I've worn the same spikes the last three months -- so it was definitely those shoes. I'll be fine tomorrow. It was just a little sore. I played through it the whole game. It happened this morning and I'm fine."
Hunter homered earlier in the afternoon -- his third of the four-game series -- and is hitting .349 with 17 runs, four doubles, two triples, six home runs and 18 RBIs in 20 July games.
The Tigers are already without No. 3 hitter and reigning American League MVP Miguel Cabrera, who has sat out the last three games with a sore left hip flexor. They'd prefer not to lose their No. 2 hitter, as well.
"I'm a gamer, man," Hunter said. "I come ready to play. You know that. I'll be in there tomorrow. Don't worry about it."
Jackson improves vs. lefties, but not stealing much
CHICAGO -- Austin Jackson has looked good to Tigers manager Jim Leyland against the White Sox left-handers at the plate this week. The next order of business is getting Jackson comfortable on the basepaths.
"I think he's been a little reluctant because of his hamstring," Leyland said. "I think at this point he would have been going a little bit more. But I think he's more conscious of it."
The Tigers in Spring Training said they hoped Jackson would steal more bases -- he stole 12 in 137 games last year -- but Jackson missed about a month this year with a strained left hamstring.
Only two players in the Majors -- St. Louis' Matt Carpenter and Atlanta's Andrelton Simmons -- have more than 200 at-bats in the leadoff spot this year and fewer than six stolen bases. Jackson has six swipes and 294 at-bats in the top spot.
But Jackson has hit lefties hard this week, and southpaws have given him great trouble this year. He entered this week's series with a .159 average against southpaws and has a hit in the past two games against Chicago's lefty starters, including a home run Wednesday against John Danks. And some of the balls he's hit hard are not reflected in the box score.
"He's swung the bat good," Leyland said. "He's a big key for us."
• Third baseman Miguel Cabrera was not in the Tigers' lineup for the third straight game after leaving Monday night's game with an aggravated left hip flexor. He's considered day to day, but the Tigers have been mum on when he might return to the lineup.
• Leyland said reports of Omar Infante's (sprained left ankle) first rehab game with Class A West Michigan on Wednesday night were good, and they expect him to play second base on Thursday night for the Whitecaps. Reliever Darin Downs (left shoulder rotator cuff tendinitis) will also make his first rehab appearance on Thursday.
Leyland said Infante will meet the Tigers in Detroit on Friday. If everything checks out, he could be activated. If not, he could play an additional rehab game with Triple-A Toledo.
• Leyland said he saw footage of Braves pitcher Tim Hudson's injury Wednesday night against the Mets, when Hudson collided with New York's Eric Young Jr. while covering first base and broke his right ankle.
"It's sad, sickening, gives you a bad feeling," Leyland said. "Terrible feeling. What a shame. It's amazing how fragile it is, because that's something you work on on the first day of Spring Training. It's like taking a drink of water. He just got in the middle of the bag and the timing was exactly wrong, instead of right, I should say. The guy just happened to be there at the exact time. It was a sad thing."