DETROIT -- Jim Leyland has the middle of his lineup going, leadoff man Austin Jackson out of a slump, and ninth hitter Omar Infante swinging like a power hitter. He does not have his catcher hitting yet. That's becoming a bigger concern.
"It would be advantageous to us if we could get Alex [Avila] going," Leyland said. "That makes you deeper and deeper, and I think he's going to get going."
Leyland isn't getting into the specialized stats on why Avila is struggling, but he's seeing the same thing many fans are.
"Early on, he was jumping on the ball pretty good," Leyland said, "and then later on, the trigger looked a little slow for some reason."
Avila's statistics show he is more aggressive swinging at pitches early in the count than he has ever been. He's swinging at the first pitch 37 percent of the time, easily topping his full-season high of 30 percent set in 2010. He's also fouling off pitches at a higher rate than he has in any season since '10.
Add it up, and he's swinging at 44.3 percent of pitches, up about 5 percent from last year, according to fangraphs.com. He's making contact with about the same percentage of swings that he did last year.
So far, though, those swings aren't bringing him up. He's hitting just .209 on balls put in play, compared with .313 a year ago.
"We do the same thing with Alex that you do with every other hitter on every other team," Leyland said. "We look at film. We hit extra. We talk about pitchers. We talk about some things. [Hitting coach Lloyd McClendon] is very good at dissecting stuff."
Fister's rash of hit batters a product of mechanics
DETROIT -- Doug Fister wants to make it clear: He isn't trying to hit batters.
It's debatable whether he's even trying to brush anybody back. That makes his rash of hit batsmen all the more surprising.
Through five starts, Fister has hit eight batters, twice as many as anyone else in the Majors. He's even hit more batters in his past two starts alone than anyone else this season and he's the first Tiger since Justin Verlander in April 2008 -- and just the seventh Tiger since 1916 -- to hit multiple batters in consecutive starts.
If that pace somehow keeps up, Fister will hit 56 batters this season, which would top even the pre-1900 record of 54 set by Phil Knell with the 1891 Columbus Solons of the American Association. Even if Fister falls off the pace, he could still shatter the post-World War II record of 21 shared by Kerry Wood (2003 Cubs) and Tom Murphy (1969 Angels).
Of course, if this pace keeps up, somebody's going to take umbrage, even though Fister doesn't mean it.
"Unfortunately, I think it's more mechanics for me," Fister said. "Not staying back at times, my arm kind of drags and the sinker gets away from me. For me, it's never intentional to hit a guy. I'm looking over and making sure that they know that it's not intentional.
"Yes, I'm trying to go inside and trying to keep the sinker down and in. But by no means is it ever intentional."
Verlander shares the post-World War II Tigers record with Frank Lary at 19. Verlander did it in 2007, his second full season in the big leagues, after Lary set the mark in 1960.
Fister is already more than halfway to last season's leading total of 14 from Arizona's Ian Kennedy and White Sox veteran Gavin Floyd.
Leyland gives Miggy, Prince green light at 3-0
DETROIT -- Jim Leyland says often he has given more green lights for players to swing on 3-0 counts in Detroit than he did in any of his other managerial stops. He also says that most players don't feel comfortable swinging at 3-0 pitches.
Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder have standing green lights on 3-0 counts, Leyland said.
"I never give Miguel the take, him and Prince," Leyland said. "Unless you think the game's a lopsided game where you don't want to get somebody hit or something like that."
Yet Cabrera is much more likely to take than swing at 3-0 pitches. A big part of the reason is the opposing pitcher. If a pitcher gets to a 3-0 count on Cabrera, he's far more likely to give him ball four than throw a get-me-over pitch for strike one.
If Cabrera actually swings at a 3-0 pitch, it's more likely to be a hittable pitch, which explains why he's 6-for-13 on those pitches for his career. He got a cookie from Braves reliever Cory Gearrin on Sunday night and lined it into the right-field seats for his second career homer on a 3-0 count. His only previous extra-base hit off a 3-0 pitch was a 2009 home run off Minnesota's Anthony Swarzak.
In 6,583 career plate appearances, Cabrera has had a 3-0 count 469 times. On 255 occasions, he has walked on the next pitch, 154 times intentionally. On 83 other occasions, he has walked on a 3-1 or 3-2 pitch.
Tigers need versatility, depth out of bullpen
DETROIT -- Jim Leyland made a forboding statement about his bullpen Monday afternoon.
"We've got some maneuvering to do yet with our bullpen," Leyland said. "I can tell you that."
He didn't get into the maneuvers they need to make. Some of that surely involves getting everyone rested and available, but Leyland seemed to hint that he was still figuring out roles for some of his relievers.
"Our bullpen is still complicated," Leyland said. "It's a whole lot less complicated because [closer Jose] Valverde is back at the end. That makes it less complicated. However, we have a lot of one-inning guys. That makes a big difference. I'm looking at that."
Coincidentally, Al Alburquerque, who used to be a one-inning guy, has pitched beyond one inning in each of his past four outings. He came back for the ninth inning Sunday night after striking out the side in the eighth, but couldn't retire either of the two batters he faced.
"That's one of the things that we're trying to figure out," Leyland said. "Are you better off pitching him one inning and maybe having him [the next day]? What's the toll going to be if you use him back-to-back, or if you use him once for two innings? There's a lot that goes into this. I'm not sure I have the answer just yet, but it's a heckuva question. I'm concerned about it."
The answer could determine whether the Tigers need another reliever who can deliver multiple innings. So far, Drew Smyly and Darin Downs have both shown they can do that, but they're both left-handers.
Coke expresses respect for Collins' coming out
DETROIT -- Phil Coke doesn't know NBA player Jason Collins, but he now knows of his story. He doesn't believe it's his position to make a judgment. But after reading about Collins' decision to come out publicly as a gay professional athlete, he expressed an abundance of respect for Collins.
"My job is to make sure I'm being the best human being I can myself, and not worry about what you're doing, or what he's doing, or what they're doing," Coke said. "At the end of the day, it's about what I'm doing in my own right with whatever decisions I've chosen to make in my life. And the man decided that it was time for him to move the curtain and be like, 'Hey, this is me, and I'm not hiding behind a façade anymore.'
"So you have to tip your cap to the man. You have to, because that takes a lot more to do that than hiding behind a curtain. Anybody can hide behind a curtain and act the way they think other people think they should act. It takes a lot for you to step outside the box. We don't scrutinize people for the organizations that they represent or anything like that. Why would we scrutinize an individual that is a professional athlete? Why would we scrutinize him for his preferences?"
It's not his role or anyone's, Coke said, to make any moral judgment other than commend the courage to make an announcement when no one else has in the middle of a career.
"This is a topic that needs to be hashed out, just as every other major issue that has faced us as a society," Coke said. "This is an important thing to a lot of people. It's a big deal today. He's a free agent going into the summer and he's looking for a job. He wore No. 98 this year representing the hate crimes of '98. You have to respect a man for standing up for what he believes and [for] himself in the same right."