DETROIT -- Daniel Schlereth came to camp early this spring looking to better his pitch command and finally make a home in the Tigers' bullpen. Two weeks into the season, he has to wonder where his command has gone.
The lack of command, meanwhile, has landed Schlereth back in Triple-A Toledo for a third consecutive year.
When the Tigers optioned Schlereth to the Mud Hens between games of Saturday's day-night doubleheader, the main reason was to open up a spot for an extra pitcher in case they need more long relief over the weekend. That's why Detroit summoned right-handed starter Thad Weber from the Hens.
Realistically, however, this was a move designed for Schlereth as well. Even with the experience he picked up the last couple summers in Detroit, he has struggled from the outset in 2012 like someone who needed to polish his game in a lower-pressure environment.
"We like him," team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "He just consistently hasn't thrown strikes for us, mostly with his fastball at this point. The second half of [last] year, he had settled down, and he did that."
Schlereth went 2-1 with a 1.93 ERA after the All-Star break, allowing five walks on 14 hits over 23 1/3 innings despite 12 walks. He took that success home with him over the offseason and made a point to better control his fastball.
Once the season started, it didn't seem to stick. After two innings and a run against the Red Sox on April 8, Schlereth walked five batters over his last four outings, helping set up damage on bigger hits.
As a lefty specialist, Schlereth wasn't bad in limited meetings, holding opponents to 3-for-13 with a home run. Right-handers, however, went 11-for-21 with five walks, basically reaching base safely two-thirds of the time through Friday. The capper came Friday, when Rangers righties went 5-for-7 with two walks en route to five runs and three outs.
"He's just struggling," manager Jim Leyland said. "He just hasn't been in sync since Day 1."
Schlereth didn't argue.
"I don't know if you want to say you expect something like that," Schlereth said of the move, "but, geez, look at my numbers. I feel like I've given up runs every time out. That's not good. I don't want to continue to struggle. When I pitch, I've usually been putting the game out of reach for us. So I understand the move."
Below again goes above and beyond
DETROIT -- Considering the Tigers had an eight-run deficit by the time Duane Below entered Game 1 of a split doubleheader against the Rangers in the second inning, he probably wasn't going to add to his team-leading win total, no matter how many innings he pitched. But his long relief work Saturday might have been his best yet.
Statistically, it was actually the best relief work the Tigers have had in 17 years.
Not since Greg Keagle in 1996 had a Tigers pitcher tossed at least six scoreless innings in relief in a game. Not since knuckleballer Steve Sparks finished out a 17-inning game in 2003, in fact, had a Tigers reliever tossed six innings of any quality. Rick Porcello's quick exit with nobody out in the second inning of Saturday's 10-4 loss gave Below a chance.
Below, a starting candidate until the end of Spring Training, ran with it, allowing no runs on four hits over six innings with four strikeouts. The Tigers may have lost, but they saved most of their bullpen for what was left of the weekend.
"I was just trying to go out and get outs and try to do the job they called down for me to come in," Below said. "That was my main focus, keeping the game where it was and not really focusing on who was up. Just try to get the ball in play and let the defense do the work."
Below did that as a left-handed pitcher against a lineup comprised mainly of right-handed hitters. Half of the four hits he allowed came to lefties Josh Hamilton and David Murphy.
Verlander watches Humber join perfecto club
DETROIT -- Justin Verlander was on his way out of the clubhouse to begin warming up for his start on Saturday night when he took a peek at the television and saw Philip Humber pitching with two outs in the ninth inning.
Verlander had to get ready, but he stuck around for a minute. Though famous for trying to get into the Perfect Game club on a video-game commercial, he'll gladly watch someone else get there.
"For something like that, you have to be able to step away from yourself for a second and appreciate it," Verlander said. "I was in the middle of my routine, and I saw what was going on, so I stopped and I walked back and checked."
Verlander stuck around long enough to see Brendan Ryan's checked swing draw a strike call. He had no doubt Ryan went around.
"Of course he did," Verlander said. "What's he [complaining] at? I'm like, 'It's a perfect game. Run to first.'"
Now, he joked, he'll have somebody else ahead of him in line at the club.
"Can't get in," he said, shaking his head. "Humber's going to be in. Kate Upton's going to let him go right by me and stop me."
Dirks continuing to deal with hamstring strain
DETROIT -- A day-night doubleheader early in the season is challenging enough on most Major League rosters. For the Tigers, though, Andy Dirks' left hamstring injury made it tougher for Jim Leyland to manage.
Under warmer weather, Leyland said, Dirks might have been available to pinch-hit, though running would've been a concern. Saturday's cooler conditions, with a first-pitch temperature of 43 degrees for Game 1, ruled that out for Leyland.
"He might be able to pinch-hit [Sunday]," Leyland said. "The prognosis is after Monday, he'll be full-go."
With Dirks out, Brennan Boesch -- who turned his left ankle in his final at-bat Thursday night -- served as the designated hitter in the opener against the Rangers, which the Tigers lost, 10-4. Ryan Raburn played right field. Miguel Cabrera was the designated hitter for Saturday's nightcap, with Boesch returning to right.
Look for Prince Fielder to get a game as the DH on Sunday as a way to get him off his feet for part of the day.
Leyland praises re-acquired Miner
DETROIT -- Tigers manager Jim Leyland can't claim to have any big league motive in the trade for Zach Miner, a move by Detroit's front office to add some pitching depth in a system still dealing with injuries. But to hear Leyland discuss Miner on Saturday, Miner could yet fill a role in the big leagues.
"I'm thrilled that we got him back," Leyland said, "because when he's at his best, he's really the kind of pitcher we need. He was a versatile-type guy. He wore a lot of hats for us."
Of course, Leyland admitted, he also was one of his most frustrating pitchers when he wasn't on his game, working to full counts and churning through pitch counts.
All of Miner's Major League appearances from 2006-09 -- 35 starts, 123 relief appearances -- came under Leyland. He missed 2010 with Tommy John surgery and signed with the Royals the following offseason.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.