10/4/2013 9:41 P.M. ET
Improved outfield 'D' has been key for Tigers
By Jason Beck and Paul Hagen / MLB.com
OAKLAND -- The Tigers mixed and matched a lot in the outfield in 2013. Andy Dirks, Quintin Berry, Delmon Young and Ryan Rayburn each started at least 15 games in left. The offseason addition of Torii Hunter changed that dynamic. He solidified right. Dirks started 95 games in left while Austin Jackson remained in center.
Young is gone. So are Brennan Boesch, who got the bulk of the starts in right in 2012, and Berry. And that could be a factor in this American League Division Series, where all games will be played in ballparks with spacious outfields: Oakland's O.co Coliseum and Detroit's Comerica Park.
"Our outfield defense is better this year. Torii Hunter solidified that a little bit, certainly," said Tigers manager Jim Leyland. "Last year, if you remember, we platooned a lot in right field. This year, we did that a little bit more in left field than right field. Torii settled into right field and Jackson in center, and that makes us real good. And Andy Dirks is a great outfielder. So, yes, I believe our outfield is better than last year."
Relievers Rondon, Coke rehabbing in Florida
OAKLAND -- If injured Tigers relievers Bruce Rondon and Phil Coke are going to get to the playoffs, they're going to have to go through Florida to get there. Both have been sent to the Tigers' instructional league session in Lakeland to work out and rehab in hopes of starting a throwing program that would get them ready for potential duty in the American League Championship Series.
Both were left off the AL Division Series roster. Rondon has been dealing with tenderness in his elbow for the better part of the past month, while forearm flexor tendinitis has plagued Coke for the past couple weeks.
The fact that they're working at least creates hope that they might be ready for later rounds of the postseason, rather than simply being shut down for the season. At this point, though, it's hard to tell how realistic that is.
Two more relievers, left-hander Darin Downs and righty Evan Reed, are also working out in instructional ball. They're serving as insurance in case the Tigers have to replace an injured pitcher on their active roster.
Jeremy Bonderman, who spent most of the second half with the team after signing back with the club in July, is not working out. His season, and potentially his Tigers career, appears over.
Unlike the previous two postseasons, the Tigers did not send any extra position players to Florida to stay fresh. Their two potential replacements, outfielder Matt Tuiasosopo and catcher Bryan Holaday, are staying with the team, taking batting practice and defensive work before games.
Avila slides up to sixth in order, behind Martinez
OAKLAND -- Tigers manager Jim Leyland has always bristled at the notion of "protecting" hitters in the lineup. There's no hitter good enough, for instance, to keep an opponent from pitching around Miguel Cabrera, if the foe was so inclined.
That might be what the Tigers face with Victor Martinez now after the best second half in the big leagues.
Leyland went with the matchups in Game 1 of the American League Division Series and moved catcher Alex Avila up to sixth in his batting order, right behind Martinez. Both Avila and Andy Dirks entered the series 4-for-8 for their careers off A's starter Bartolo Colon, but Avila's .303 average and .876 OPS since the All-Star break won out.
Dirks moved down to eighth.
"I put Alex up there a little bit because of his numbers," Leyland said. "Dirks does real good at the top of the order, so I tried to push him down, just to see if that would relax him a little bit."
Avila's numbers still might not be enough to deter a cautious approach to Martinez, who went 11-for-16 against the A's during their four-game series in August at Comerica Park. Martinez was intentionally walked 10 times this year, his highest total since his 114-RBI season in Cleveland in 2007.
Nine of those intentional walks came after Jhonny Peralta, who was batting sixth regularly, was suspended in early August. None of them, however, came from the A's.
"I can't worry about that," Leyland said. "A lot of people are taking for granted that we got Victor in there this year, but a lot of people forget Delmon Young has been terrific in the playoffs."
Advance scouting preps Tigers for A's rookie Gray
OAKLAND -- The Tigers remember a lot of these Oakland Athletics from last year's American League Division Series, their trip here in April or the A's trip to Detroit in August. They do not, however, remember rookie Sonny Gray, whom they've never seen.
It's one of the rare instances where they rely on their advance scouting to give them an idea what to expect. They don't do much of it during the regular season, but they send two scouts per team to watch postseason contenders down the stretch.
In Oakland's case, they relied on Major League scout Jim Olander and Tim McWilliam, the West Coast crosschecker on their amateur scouting staff, to track the A's down the stretch. Those reports will be the basis of their approach against Gray on Saturday night in Game 2 of the ALDS (9 p.m. ET, TBS).
Though the Tigers obviously have plenty of video on Gray, manager Jim Leyland said they prefer the scouting reports.
"They see it in person. Sometimes on video, you don't get the best of shots," Leyland said. "You see it, but it's probably better to take what the scouts say, because they see [the player's] body language and everything else. They see if he gets upset if he gets a couple runners on. They see if he gets upset if somebody makes an error. They see all that stuff. You don't really see that on video."
Leyland feels for former Reds skipper Baker
OAKLAND -- When the Reds announced Friday that manager Dusty Baker wouldn't return next season, he had 1,671 career wins. Among men who held that position in the big leagues this year, only one had more victories: Jim Leyland with 1,769.
So it's not surprising that Leyland took the dismissal hard.
"We're a fraternity," Leyland said before Game 1 of the American League Division Series against the Athletics. "He's a very good friend of mine. We go back a long way. We've competed against each other. He's a terrific manager, and I assume it's just like we fall into those situations sometimes where the general manager, maybe ownership, I don't know, they just feel that it's time for a change. That goes along with our territory.
"But, you know, certainly as managers, we think about that. I'm sorry to hear about it and I wish Dusty the best."
Leyland tried to call Baker after hearing the news, but "didn't make contact."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.