NEW YORK -- Tigers manager Jim Leyland played the matchups Sunday in giving Alex Avila a day off in favor of Gerald Laird against CC Sabathia. But it also came amidst a stretch Avila would probably like to forget, let alone end.
Though Avila had a single against Freddy Garcia on Saturday and homered off Seattle lefty Jason Vargas on Tuesday, he entered Sunday 5-for-38 over the last two weeks, with 12 strikeouts in 11 games. The skid has lowered his batting average from .364 to .220.
Avila will get a chance to break out of it this upcoming week against the Royals. He's 6-for-20 lifetime with a double and a home run against Luke Hochevar, who starts Monday night's series opener at Comerica Park, even though Avila batted just .231 off Royals pitching last year and went 1-for-8 with five strikeouts in two games at Kansas City earlier this month.
Fister to make Triple-A rehab start Wednesday
NEW YORK -- Doug Fister's rehab start for Triple-A Toledo has been set for Wednesday at Fifth Third Field against Pawtucket. His return to the Tigers' rotation isn't set, though it's easily speculated.
It depends a lot on how soon manager Jim Leyland means by "real soon" when he talked Saturday night about eventually getting Fister back.
From a pure pitch count standpoint, Fister has already been stretching out his arm. He threw 50 pitches in his first bullpen session Thursday, then topped that in his latest mound session Saturday. One would expect the Tigers would give him close to a normal pitch count Wednesday night.
From there, the question as to one rehab start or two comes down to how much time the Tigers want Fister to get against live hitters. He hasn't seen live hitters in three weeks since straining a muscle near his left rib cage.
If the club decides one rehab start is enough, then it's feasible Duane Below's start Monday against the Royals could be his only one in place of Fister. The Tigers are off on Thursday, so they could use the off-day to push back Below's spot and move up Rick Porcello and possibly Justin Verlander to start on normal rest.
In that case, Porcello would face the White Sox on Sunday. If the Tigers pushed up Verlander to pitch Monday at Seattle, then they wouldn't need a fifth starter until next Tuesday at Seattle. Fister would have enough rest at that point to start, if that's what the Tigers wanted.
Prince halts homerless drought with solo shot
NEW YORK -- Albert Pujols isn't the only prominent American League free agent who entered Sunday's play in a home run drought. Prince Fielder ended his on Sunday when he took a CC Sabathia pitch deep in the fourth inning for his first home run since his two-homer game April 7.
Unlike Pujols, however, Fielder did a whole lot of hitting during his homerless streak.
While Fielder entered Sunday's series finale homerless in his past 71 at-bats, he batted .296 in that stretch. Amazingly, just two of his 21 hits in that stretch went for extra bases. His last nine hits before Sunday's home run were singles, dating back to April 18 at Kansas City.
"Home run are usually mistakes," Fielder said after the game. "Pitchers are good. When they don't make mistakes, you have to take what they give you."
For someone who has yet to hit .300 over a full season -- he has finished at .299 in two of his last three seasons -- Fielder is showing a surprising acumen for pure hitting. Leyland credited him to reacting to the way he's being pitched and not trying to do something more.
"I think anytime somebody hits with a lot of power up there, that's what people focus on," Leyland said. "People like home runs, and they probably forget what a real good hitter this is. It's the same with a guy like Pujols. He's not just a home run hitter. He's a real good hitter.
"It looks to me like they've just been staying away from Fielder so much, that he's taking what's there. And he's gotten a lot of big hits, huge hits, for us. That's pretty good hitting."
Top prospect Jacob Turner gave up four unearned runs on eight hits over six innings in his second rehab start for Class A Lakeland. Turner has been on the disabled list for Triple-A Toledo after missing most of Spring Training with right shoulder tendinitis. The Tigers haven't announced where his next start will be, but the Toledo Mud Hens have yet to name a starter for Friday.
Daniel Schlereth has landed on the disabled list at Triple-A Toledo with left shoulder tendinitis, less than a week after the Tigers optioned him out. Schlereth did not appear in a game after being sent down.
Top position prospect Nick Castellanos raised his average to .398 at Class A Lakeland after going 2-for-4 against Daytona on Sunday. The third baseman is batting .425 (17-for-40) over his last 10 games.