KANSAS CITY -- Tigers catcher Alex Avila will have the next few days off, though it'll be more a matter of the matchups with opposing pitchers than about his slump at the plate. Still, the numbers suggest that his hitting adjustments are a work in progress.
Avila entered Wednesday's series finale against the Royals in an 0-for-13 skid. He started Detroit's last four games and went hitless in all of them. He had an 0-for-17 slump last month that prompted manager Jim Leyland to alternate starts behind the plate with Brayan Pena to try to get Avila going.
Avila had better results for an eight-game stretch, going 6-for-24 (.250) with a double, home run, two RBIs and five walks.
Leyland paused when asked if he's seeing better at-bats from Avila during this stretch than he had in his previous slump.
"On occasion," Leyland said, "but not with consistency."
With right-handed hitters having more success off Royals ace James Shields than left-handed batters, Pena started at catcher on Wednesday. He'll also start Friday night in Minnesota against lefty Scott Diamond.
Jones is valuable pitch man for Tigers' staff
KANSAS CITY -- Jeff Jones made his name as a pitching coach in Triple-A, working with guys the Tigers sent down for him to fix, trying to find something that would work. On days like Tuesday, that background is still apparent today.
As Max Scherzer was struggling through his first inning against the Royals, Tigers manager Jim Leyland was talking with his pitching coach to try to figure out what was up with his unbeaten pitcher. Jones spotted something.
"He said he was carrying his glove too low and that's got him out of whack a little bit," Leyland said.
It was something Leyland hadn't figured to spot, and he has spent about a half a century in baseball as a catcher, coach and manager. For Jones, it was something he had worked with Scherzer on adjusting last year when he was going through his early-season struggles.
It wasn't the biggest adjustment for Scherzer, who said he had get more aggressive with his mindset and attack hitters. But it was a key component nonetheless.
Make no mistake, a pitching coach is only as good as the talent around him, but his job depends on getting the most out of talent. Part of that is psychology. Part of it, too, is pattern recognition, spotting what's different.
Jones has a knack for that. It's in his history.
"I don't say much about him very often, because I don't like to brag about him, but I have a terrific pitching coach," Leyland said. "He's very good at spotting stuff."
Leyland has historically been a big proponent of managers and coaches learning in the Minor Leagues, having spent more than a decade managing on the farm before he got his shot. He's careful to point out that it isn't a necessity, but in some cases, it can be an advantage.
Jones spent a dozen years as the pitching coach at Triple-A Toledo. He'd get the prospects on their way up, and he'd get the reclamation projects on their trip down.
"There are guys in Triple-A, who are knocking on the door and have to get over that last hurdle," Leyland said, "and some guys that have been there and all of a sudden went backwards and didn't make the adjustment, and you're trying to help them make the adjustment."
The staff Jones has in Detroit has pretty much been on an upward trajectory the last few years. Still, he has had to help Scherzer through rough spells the last couple years, and Jones has been the point man for helping Rick Porcello through his growing pains. Now, both are at the point where they can make in-game adjustments.
It makes the results of adjustments quicker, and it makes Jones' job easier.
Verlander's brother announces deal with club
KANSAS CITY -- The first of the Tigers' Draft deals is a familiar name. Old Dominion outfielder Ben Verlander, Detroit's 14th-round selection, has agreed to terms with the club.
The younger brother of Justin Verlander made the announcement via Twitter on Wednesday, tweeting a photo of him signing the contract with a Tigers T-shirt in the background while wearing an ODU baseball T-shirt.
It's official! Just signed my contract with the Detroit Tigers! twitter.com/Verly32/status…- Ben Verlander (@Verly32) June 12, 2013
The Tigers have not officially announced the deal. The club usually waits until a player has completed his physical.
The younger Verlander gained national attention this spring with a three-homer game for Old Dominion, prompting Justin Verlander to rave about him in Spring Training. Ben Verlander built off that momentum and turned in a stellar junior season, his first as a full-time position player.
At ODU, Verlander hit .367 with 11 home runs and 37 RBIs.
Leyland likes hit-and-run with Prince, Miggy
KANSAS CITY -- One of the benefits of having Prince Fielder hitting behind Miguel Cabrera, besides the idea of protecting a star hitter in the batting order, is the chance to drive in Cabrera from first base with a home run. It's something left-handed hitting power hitters do.
On occasion, however, manager Jim Leyland isn't afraid to put Cabrera in motion and let Fielder play contact baseball and try to get Cabrera from first to third. By doing that on Tuesday, Cabrera moved into position for the go-ahead run on a Victor Martinez sacrifice fly.
The full count pitch to Fielder gave Cabrera the opportunity.
"I just felt like Prince would put the ball in play for sure," Leyland said on Wednesday morning. "I did what I thought was the right thing to do."
According to baseball-reference.com, it marked the 17th time that Cabrera has been on first base when a batter has singled. Cabrera has gone first to third just four of those times. By contrast, Cabrera has scored from first on a double six times in eight opportunities, and has scored from second on a single five times out of seven hits.
By contrast, Cabrera went from first to third 14 times on 46 singles last year, and 26 times out of 69 singles when Martinez was hitting behind him two years ago. The 2011 numbers ranked him among the best in the league.