TEX@DET: Knebel records his first career strikeout

DETROIT -- Tigers manager Brad Ausmus had been waiting for the right situation to insert Corey Knebel into a game for his Major League debut.

With the score lopsided in Texas' favor Saturday, he saw his chance. It just didn't go as well as hoped.

Knebel, the organization's 39th overall pick in last year's draft, pitched an inning, spaced over two frames. He allowed three hits and three runs and also walked two batters.

"He threw hard," Ausmus said of the 22-year-old Texan who blazed through the Minor League system. "His curveball's good. When he stays downhill with his fastball and curveball, he's in good shape. Every once in a while he gets a little bit uphill, and I think that's when you see the curveball pop out of his hand."

Knebel said he pitched behind in the count far more often than he would've liked and was frustrated by the bases on balls. He admitted to feeling nervous, although Ausmus said he thought the youngster carried himself well. His fastball hovered around 95 mph.

In the eighth inning of Friday night's 7-2 win over the Rangers, Ausmus got Knebel up throwing in the bullpen. But Ausmus opted to go with lefty Ian Krol for the entire ninth inning. The manager said after Friday's game that, had Krol gotten two quick outs instead of allowing two men to reach base, he'd have turned the ball over to the rookie.

Even though the outing wasn't ideal, fans still gave him polite applause as a welcome when he headed to the dugout after his work was done.

"That felt good," Knebel said. "It was a good feeling. Everyone gave me a fist bump after.

"Tomorrow's a new day. I'll come tomorrow with a smile on my face. It won't happen again."

Negro Leaguers honored with Tribute Game

TEX@DET: Tigers honor Negro League during pregame

DETROIT -- Saturday's game against the Rangers was the Tigers' 20th annual Negro Leagues Tribute Game. Both teams wore uniforms from that era, with Detroit representing that city's Stars franchise and Texas representing the Fort Worth Black Panthers.

Before the game, 10 former Negro Leagues players participated in a roundtable discussion at Comerica Park, fielding questions from fans about their experiences.

Charlie Davis, Melvin Buck Duncan, Pedro Sierra, Walt Owens, Johnny Walker, Bill Hill, Ron Teasley, Minnie Forbes, Eugene Scruggs and Henry Saverson were all in attendance and were honored in an on-field ceremony prior to the game. They represented teams such as the Memphis Red Sox and Indianapolis Clowns, in addition to Detroit.

The honorees maintained strong ties to Detroit through the years -- Teasley, for example, grew up in Detroit and later coached baseball at the city's Northwestern High School. He threw out a ceremonial first pitch before Saturday's game.

One former player referred to the Negro Leagues as "the most important chapter in the history of baseball in the United States."

Forbes, who owned the Stars and also was the fourth woman to play in the Negro Leagues, remembered the time period fondly as well.

"It was a unique experience for me," said Forbes, who played third base. "I learned a lot."

That's not to say, however, that all of her memories are endearing.

"I didn't get an opportunity to show how smart I was because they wouldn't let me hit the ball," Forbes said.

The difficulties the Negro League players faced ranged from the mildly annoying (rough travel schedules and sub-optimal accommodations) to downright nasty displays of racist vitriol.

"We didn't care because we loved the game," said Sierra, who introduced himself as the last Negro League player to be signed by a Major League club.

Prospect Moya slugs pair of homers for Erie

Top Prospects: Steven Moya, OF, Tigers

Outfielder Steven Moya, the Tigers' No. 20 prospect, hit a walk-off home run in the second game of a doubleheader on Saturday to help Double-A Erie defeat Altoona, 7-6. It was Moya's second home run of the game.

Thanks to Moya's heroics, the SeaWolves split the twin bill after losing the first game, 2-0. Both games were scheduled to last seven innings because of the doubleheader.

Moya's first home run of the day was a two-run drive to left off Altoona starter Tyler Sample in the fourth inning. He added a game-tying two-run single in the sixth before smashing the game-winner with two outs in the eighth inning.

Moya finished the nightcap 4-for-4 with three runs and a career-high six RBIs. He went 1-for-3 in the first game of the doubleheader.

With his career day at the plate, Moya is hitting .255 this season. He has seven home runs and a .473 slugging percentage in 44 games.

Right-hander Jose Valdez, the Tigers' No. 11 prospect, threw two scoreless innings of relief in the second game, setting up Moya's heroics. In 16 games this season, Valdez has four saves and has struck out 21 batters in 21 innings.

-- Teddy Cahill

Kinsler, Cabrera on rare teammate 50-doubles pace

TEX@DET: Kinsler paces Tigers with three doubles

DETROIT -- Ian Kinsler came to the Tigers looking to slash the vast outfield gaps of Comerica Park for doubles. He's doing that at an incredible pace. So, too, is Miguel Cabrera, who simply came into the season looking to repeat the hitting that made him a three-time batting champ.

Not since Charlie Gehringer and Gee Walker in 1936 has a Tiger team featured two players with 50 or more doubles in a season. No team anywhere in the big leagues has done it since 2000, when Todd Helton and Jeff Cirillo topped it for the Rockies. Both Kinsler and Cabrera entered Saturday on pace for 60-double seasons.

Considering no Major League hitter has hit 60 doubles in a season since Gehringer and Joe Medwick in 1936, that pace seems unlikely to hold. Fifty, however, would be more realistic. If they can both get there, they'll have quite a feat.

Kinsler helped his pace with a trio of doubles Friday night, the first three-double game by a Tiger since Austin Jackson last Aug. 9 and the first such game at Comerica Park since Jackson did it on June 3, 2010. That put Kinsler at 17 doubles for the season, one behind Minnesota's Trevor Plouffe for the AL lead entering Saturday.

Kinsler had another three-double game as a rookie back on July 2, 2006, before he emerged as a power hitter. He arrived in Spring Training with a goal to get back to his younger form.

"I want to get back to [being] more of a line-drive-type hitter, a guy that's on base a lot more and gives the guys behind me a lot more opportunities to drive in runs," Kinsler said in February. "[Comerica Park is] spacious. You get a ball past an outfielder in that ballpark, you should be looking for three regardless of what line it's on."

He hasn't tripled yet, but he's already more than halfway to last season's total of 31 doubles. He set a career high with 42 doubles two years ago. Eleven of his doubles for the year have come this month.

Cabrera, by contrast, has a 50-double season on his resume, having hit the exact tally with the 2006 Marlins. He threatened it in 2011 before finishing with 48, part of a string of three consecutive 40-double seasons that ended last year. He doubled just 26 times in 2013, mainly because injuries limited him to singles and homers.

Only one Tiger since Gehringer has topped 30 doubles by the All-Star break. Magglio Ordonez went into the break in 2007 with 35. He finished with a league-high total of 54.

Worth pitches for second time in three games

TEX@DET: Worth uses knuckler to fan a pair in relief

DETROIT -- Tigers shortstop Danny Worth fell asleep to a documentary about knuckleballers Friday night. Little did he know he'd have a chance to practice his craft once again the next day.

It wasn't exactly a pleasant surprise.

"I don't even want to go out there again, because I want to win ballgames," Worth said. "It's not fun going out there like that."

It wasn't easy for manager Brad Ausmus, either. Worth wasn't the first position player in the Majors to make two pitching appearances, not even this season. Dodgers catcher Drew Butera pitched twice in four games earlier this season under similar circumstances. Mark Koenig was the last Tiger to do it, pitching three games in 1931 amidst his role as a starting middle infielder.

"You don't want to turn it into a carnival sideshow by bringing in position players," Ausmus said, "but we've got to find a way to save some arms down in the bullpen."

Worth came in for the ninth inning of Saturday's 12-2 rout at the hands of the Rangers on Saturday. The outing did not go as well as Thursday's, when he became the first Detroit position player to throw a full inning since 1931.

Worth was effectively wild the first two hitters, getting back-to-back groundouts from Leonys Martin and Donnie Murphy. From the outset, though, he was struggling to get a feel for the knuckler that confounded Rangers hitters Thursday afternoon.

"I couldn't get it going today," Worth said. "I didn't know where it was going or what it was going to do. It wasn't like the other day."

He threw one knuckleball behind Murphy's head, the next over the plate, then the next inside again before Murphy hit a comebacker. Worth said Murphy smiled at him, showing an understanding of the situation.

"He smiled at me. I smiled back," Worth said. "He knew, just whatever."

One out away from a clean inning, however, Worth gave up three straight two-out hits. The first was a relative fluke, an opposite-field blooper from Rougned Odor that fell into short left field for a double.

The next hit, a double off the fence from Michael Choice, was no fluke. It was a knuckleball that didn't knuckle. Much like the knuckleball pitchers he watched in the documentary, he found out that hanging knucklers tend to get hit hard.

"It just didn't do anything," Worth said. "It was just spinning out of my fingers, just like the one I threw behind [Murphy]."

Elvis Andrus hit a ground ball through the right side before Worth recovered to retire Mitch Moreland on a grounder to first.

Worth headed to the dugout to cheers. However, he said he couldn't hear them.

"I hope I don't have to showcase [the knuckleball] for the rest of the season," he said. "Let's win some games."

Even before Saturday's outing, one of his fingernails was still sore Saturday afternoon from throwing 19 knucklers out of 20 pitches two days earlier. After Saturday's outing, he was ready for a break.

"I probably won't throw for five days now," he said.

Worth will try to at least stay fresh by throwing off the mound every seven to 10 days, per Ausmus' request.

"If you had asked me when I was hired if I'd have a position player pitch two out of three games, I don't think I would have said yes," Ausmus said. "But we've got some guys' arms who need rests down there. Fortunately, Danny can throw strikes with his knuckleball. His ERA went up a bit."

Ausmus' counterpart, Rangers manager Ron Washington, seemed to understand, though he knew better than to make too much of it.

"They have a player who can go out there and get outs," Washington said. "If they tried to make him a pitcher, it woudn't last. He's a player, but he can get them outs. They're fortunate to have a guy like that."

Dirks still doing light workouts

Outlook: Dirks expected to be out until June

DETROIT -- Andy Dirks continues to do some light baseball activity in Florida while rehabbing from March back surgery, but he has not yet progressed to full work.

Dirks was cleared for light activity two weeks ago. He has been taking dry swings with the bat ever since, while also doing some light throwing in the field.

Manager Brad Ausmus underwent the same microdiscectomy surgery on his back during his playing career, so he knows what Dirks is going through. Ausmus said that once he was fully cleared, he was able to progress quickly.

"I remember kind of kind of easily doing some of the stuff he did, throwing and taking dry swings," Ausmus said. "You take some swings off the tee and soft-toss, and then it goes relatively quickly after that. I think once the doctors feel like you can rotate without any issues, [it's key]. It went relatively quickly from dry swings to live batting practice and then rehab."

The original prognosis on Dirks was that he'd require 12 weeks from surgery before he'd be ready for games. Memorial Day will be the 11-week mark since Dirks' surgery.

Quick hits

Joel Hanrahan has thrown off a mound twice since being cleared again for side sessions following a bout of arm weakness, Ausmus said. He also continues to build up his arm strength by long-tossing.

• The Tigers shuffled their rotation slightly for their upcoming four-game series in Oakland, pushing back Max Scherzer by a day. He'll get an extra day's rest before starting Tuesday night, while Drew Smyly rejoins the rotation for the Memorial Day series opener. By starting Smyly ahead of Scherzer, the Tigers avoid pitching Verlander and Scherzer back to back.