5/6/2014 12:23 A.M. ET
Ausmus catches up with former batterymate Sparks
By Jason Beck and Matt Slovin / MLB.com
DETROIT -- Brad Ausmus spotted Steve Sparks through the crowd of reporters at his pregame media session and remembered.
"Hey, last time we were here, you were pitching to me," Ausmus said.
This is actually true. The last time Ausmus and Sparks were at Comerica Park together, they were batterymates for a game against the Twins on the next-to-last day of the 2000 season. That was the first year of the ballpark.
Of course, they were in the clubhouse then. On Monday, they were in the manager's office -- Ausmus running the Tigers, Sparks calling Astros games on the radio.
"Last time I was in here, I was getting released," Sparks retorted.
That was a few years later, long after Ausmus had been dealt to Houston.
Ausmus caught Sparks nine times in that 2000 season, which places him ninth on the 28-man list of Sparks games caught. Ausmus is the third former-Sparks-catcher-turned-Major-League-manager, joining Mike Matheny and A.J. Hinch.
Unlike a lot of Major League catchers, Ausmus said he never had much of an issue catching a knuckleball. Sparks apparently didn't have much problem pitching to him, posting a 3.25 ERA and a 2.15 strikeout-to-walk ratio in games Ausmus caught.
"I did use a different glove," Ausmus said. "As a matter of fact, Sparky gave me the glove. Most knuckleballers travel with a knuckleball glove, and I kept it and I used it for all the knuckleballers I caught after that."
Asked to describe the difference between that and his regular catcher's mitt, Ausmus said, "Imagine that a catcher's mitt and a first baseman's mitt had a baby."
Reliever Putkonen set for rehab assignment
DETROIT -- Tigers long reliever Luke Putkonen, who is eligible to come off the disabled list, threw another side session on Monday and will report to Class A West Michigan on Wednesday to begin a rehab assignment.
Inflammation in the elbow sidelined Putkonen after his last outing on April 18. West Michigan is the destination for his rehab assignment because Triple-A Toledo is on the road at Pawtucket.
"We will see how it goes," manager Brad Ausmus said. "If everything goes well, he'll probably have another rehab stint."
Ausmus added that Putkonen's second rehab outing would probably not be with West Michigan. Toledo returns home Friday. Putkonen's eventual return will give the Tigers their long reliever back. Detroit's bullpen has the third-worst ERA in the Majors (5.31).
"I felt good," Putkonen said Saturday after a Friday bullpen session. "I spun a few curveballs at the end."
First baseman Lennerton outrighted to Triple-A
DETROIT -- Jordan Lennerton made enough of an impression on the Tigers last year at Triple-A Toledo that he earned a spot on the 40-man roster this offseason at age 28. His struggles in Toledo this year were deep enough that the Tigers already took him off.
Detroit made room for Robbie Ray on the 40-man roster by outrighting Lennerton's contract to Toledo. Lennerton had to clear waivers last week for that to happen, meaning no other team claimed him.
That, too, is a sign of his struggles. It was the fear of another team selecting Lennerton in the Rule 5 Draft that drew the Tigers to protect him on the 40-man roster in the offseason, even though the slugging first baseman's path to the big leagues is blocked by Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez.
Lennerton made an impression in Spring Training before losing that momentum in Toledo. He entered Monday batting .165 (15-for-91) with two doubles, a home run and six RBIs. His 23 walks boost his on-base percentage to .333, but he has also struck out 28 times.
Later Monday, the Tigers opened up a spot on the 25-man roster for Ray by optioning reliever Jose Ortega to Toledo, returning the bullpen to seven pitchers. Ortega hadn't pitched since walking four Twins over 1 1/3 innings in relief of an injured Anibal Sanchez on April 26 at Target Field.
Former Michigan star Stauskas throws first pitch
DETROIT -- Former University of Michigan basketball standout Nik Stauskas, the 2014 Big Ten Player of the Year, threw out one of three ceremonial first pitches Monday evening.
Stauskas, who announced last month his decision to enter June's NBA Draft, hurled a strike through the chilly air.
"I got, like, eight practice pitches," Stauskas said afterward. "That's all I needed."
Joining the second-team All-American swingman on the mound to throw first pitches were Detroit Lions safety Glover Quin and Olympic speed skater Kelly Gunther.
Stauskas said he played baseball for fun growing up in Mississauga, Ontario, which is considered part of Greater Toronto. He added that he went to a few Blue Jays games as a kid, but he's always been devoted to basketball.
Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said he saw Stauskas play at a Michigan-Michigan State basketball game this season -- though he was a guest of the Spartans.
"But I wasn't picking sides," Ausmus said. "I was just looking for a good game."
Stauskas is the second former Michigan basketball player to throw out a first pitch this season. Jordan Morgan tossed one during the last homestand.
• Victor Martinez took a 94-mph fastball from Jarred Cosart in the first inning Monday night for his first called third strike since last May 21, ending a streak of 154 games, 579 at-bats and 641 plate appearances without being caught looking. Martinez had fanned 45 times in that stretch, but all of them swinging.
• Players were decked out in the clubhouse wearing orange and blue Tigers patterned Zubaz pants, courtesy of Joba Chamberlain. Several Tigers players had been wearing them for a while, but Chamberlain got a shipment from Zubaz for the rest of the team, including Ausmus.
"The sad part is, I had Zubaz when I was younger," Ausmus said. "For most of the guys, that's retro wear. For me, I wore them when I was in eighth grade."
• The Tigers announced Monday night that they've moved back the start time for their Sept. 8 game against the Royals to 4:08 p.m. ET. The game was originally scheduled for a 7:08 p.m. first pitch before the NFL scheduled the Detroit Lions to open their season on Monday Night Football at 7 p.m. across the street at Ford Field. The two teams have tried to avoid overlapping games over the years to better accommodate fans driving and parking downtown.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. Matt Slovin is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.