DETROIT -- Starting with Saturday night against Zach Britton, the Tigers entered a stretch in which they will face five consecutive left-handed starting pitchers. It's the second time this season the team's had such a stretch, the last coming from July 4-8. Detroit won all five of those contests heading into the All-Star break.
Last time, Tigers manager Jim Leyland was concerned. Now? Not even a little, he said.
A good deal of that confidence can be credited to that July win streak, when the Tigers entered the stretch 8-13 vs. southpaws and on the verge of closing out the first half of the season below .500 before rattling off five consecutive victories.
It can also be credited to the presence of Jeff Baker, who was acquired on Aug. 5 from the Cubs. For Leyland, one of the team's biggest holes had been not having another reliable right-handed hitter on the bench to insert against lefties. In Baker, he now has that piece, but also somebody good enough to start for a stretch.
"Baker's probably happy. He'll get a chance to get some consecutive at-bats for a while," said Leyland, who had Baker penciled in to bat eighth and play in right field on Saturday. "That'll be good for him. I'm sure he'll be tickled."
Baker had 11 at-bats and three starts since coming to Detroit entering Saturday. And although he certainly wasn't complaining about his role, he welcomes the opportunity.
"I don't really care where I play," Baker said. "It's about trying to give the guys a lift that day. And you know, when you're in there, whether you're in there for a starter that's getting a day off or, in this case, when you're out there platooning in the outfield, you're just ready to go."
Small tweak appears to have Benoit on track
DETROIT -- Lost in the depths of Prince Fielder's home runs Friday night was the performance of the Tigers' bullpen to hold down a game Fielder tied. That included Joaquin Benoit, whose second perfect inning in three days furthered the hope that his midsummer struggles are behind him.
Pitching coach Jeff Jones is among the most hopeful.
Benoit needed 12 pitches, eight of them strikes, to retire the Orioles in order Friday night. He didn't record a strikeout, but none of the balls the O's hit got out of the infield. Matt Wieters, whose two-run homer off Justin Verlander in his previous at-bat put the O's in front, grounded out to second. Chris Davis swung and missed at back-to-back changeups before popping out to short, then Joe Mahoney lined out to second base.
Add that to his perfect inning with two strikeouts Wednesday at Minnesota, and Benoit has gone consecutive outings without a baserunner for the first time in four weeks.
Jones said he and Benoit made a tweak to try to get his front leg higher in his delivery. By doing that, Jones said, Benoit's balance in his delivery should be better, and he should be able to get more turn when he throws.
It's a small tweak, but to Jones, it wasn't a big issue to begin with. Benoit has given up 11 hits over 13 innings since the All-Star break, which isn't unusual. The fact that seven of those 11 hits were home runs is.
"He just went through a crazy stretch, in my opinion," Jones said Saturday. "You can't go out there and try to give up home runs and give up that many."
Alburquerque cleared to resume his rehab
DETROIT -- The Tigers have been hoping for the sight of Al Alburquerque around Comerica Park at some point this summer. These weren't the circumstances they were looking for.
In time, they're hoping he can get back here in uniform. In Saturday's case, though, he was here to see team doctors about tenderness in his surgically repaired right elbow. X-rays and other test results showed no damage, and he was cleared to resume his Minor League rehab assignment with Triple-A Toledo.
Alburquerque has been on rehab since July 24, including the past 2 1/2 weeks with the Mud Hens. He has pitched only once in the past week, however, tossing 2 2/3 scoreless innings on three hits with five strikeouts Wednesday at Syracuse.
Alburquerque said he felt tenderness in his elbow after that outing. In accordance with what the team medical staff told him before he went on rehab, he reported it and flew to Detroit to have it checked out.
Alburquerque is expected to rejoin the Mud Hens on Sunday and pitch on Monday. Time is essential at this point, because he has just four days left on his rehab assignment before the Tigers have to make a decision to activate him, option him to the Minors or keep him on the disabled list without pitching.
At this late stage of the season, though, any lingering concern might be enough for the Tigers to shelve the idea of his return for the stretch run and focus on getting him ready for next year.
Young to be a regular in Tigers lineup
DETROIT -- Around this time last year, newly acquired Tiger Delmon Young was embarking on the late-season run that helped Detroit win its first division title since 1987, with 32 RBIs in 40 games.
Tigers manager Jim Leyland believes Young can play a big part again, enough that he's going to give the right-handed hitter every chance to do it.
"I would say it's safe to say Delmon's going to be in there for the most part every single day," Leyland said.
That's a bit of a change from last homestand, when Leyland said upon Andy Dirks' return that he would be trying to fit in six outfielders to four spots -- including DH -- and that some might not be playing every day. Yet other than a game off against the Yankees, Young has played pretty much every day for the past two weeks.
Saturday marked Young's 13th start in Detroit's last 14 games. He's batting .300 (12-for-40) with four doubles, a home run and five RBIs over his last 10 games.
The Tigers have a string of five consecutive games against left-handed starters beginning Saturday, anyway, so Young was going to be playing regularly for the near term regardless.
Anibal not worried about his struggles in Detroit
DETROIT -- Anibal Sanchez has put together a pretty solid seven-year career to fall back on when he struggles. So for the right-hander, his 1-3 record and 7.97 ERA since coming to Detroit is nothing more than a small obstacle.
"I'm the guy who thinks everything happens for a reason," Sanchez said. "And I'm just going to use it as that. Just keep working hard, probably another bullpen to [work on] keeping my ball down, and hope for a good game on Wednesday."
Sanchez said he hasn't made drastic mechanical changes during his extra time off and hasn't watched too much film of himself to make those corrections, but he's working in the bullpen on keeping the ball down around the knees.
"We're working to pull the ball down. That's the key right now," Sanchez said.
Part of the reason Sanchez hasn't made any major adjustments is because pitching coach Jeff Jones didn't find the need for an overhaul.
"There's nothing major as far as delivery is concerned," Jones said.
Jones has been great at spotting small mechanical issues. He worked with Rick Porcello to bring his glove overhead during his windup, which Porcello has said helps keep his pitches down. He also assisted Max Scherzer with a small hand placement problem before his delivery earlier this year.
Jones said he had a talk with Sanchez about the pressure of being traded at the non-waiver Trade Deadline and finding himself in the midst of a pennant race.
"[I told him] don't press," Jones said. "Don't try to do more than what you can. I told him yesterday, 'You're going to be huge for us down the stretch. You've been successful and you're going to be successful again.'"
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. Anthony Odoardi is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.