Avila returns, Sanchez and Tuiasosopo on horizon

BY foxsports • July 1, 2013

Reinforcements are on the way for the Detroit Tigers, who dropped out of first place for the first time since May 23 with an 8-3 loss to the Blue Jays on Monday afternoon in Toronto.

Catcher Alex Avila was recalled by the Tigers after the game, and Detroit manager Jim Leyland said he would start Tuesday night against Toronto right-hander Chien-Ming Wang.

Avila’s roster replacement, Bryan Holaday, was optioned to Toledo after batting .231 in four games.

Starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez and slugging outfielder Matt Tuiasosopo, also could return to the Tigers in time for the four-game weekend series in Cleveland with the Central Division-leading Indians.

Jose Alvarez, who has filled Sanchez’s rotation spot since he went on the 15-day disabled list with a right shoulder strain, lasted only three innings Monday and allowed five runs (four earned) to drop to 1-2 with a 5.03 ERA.

Sanchez, who was hoping to make one rehabilitation appearance Monday night for the Lakeland Flying Tigers, could very well be activated in time to make his next start Saturday against the Indians. Endurance was the only concern with Sanchez, who hasn’t pitched since coming out after throwing 72 pitches in 3 2/3 innings on June 15.

“If everything goes all right,” Leyland told reporters, “I expect he’ll pitch for us next.”

Sanchez left Monday's rehab start with the Lakeland Flying Tigers after a liner by Brandon Macias of the Brevard County Manatees struck him. He'd pitched 1 2/3 innings, entering the third inning of a game from Sunday that was incomplete. He allowed two singles, and got a ground out double play, a pop out and a ground out in the game. His goal had been 60 pitches, but he appears to have fallen well short of that.

There are no details available yet in regard to how this affects his availability to the Tigers.

Sanchez is 6-5 with a 2.76 ERA that ranks fourth in the American League.  He’s developed into one of the league’s top power pitchers, and ranks second with 11.13 strikeouts per nine innings – just behind Texas Rangers ace Yu Darvish (11.99) and just ahead of teammate Max Scherzer (10.69).

Sanchez was pitching well enough to be considered for the All-Star Game roster before the injury and having him take his turn against the Indians would be a plus. Cleveland (44-38) took a half-game lead on Detroit (43-38), which has lost six of its last seven.

Tuiasosopo’s bat would be another welcome addition for the Tigers. He was batting .338 with seven doubles, three home runs and 17 RBIs in only 71 at-bats before going on the disabled list June 20 with a left rib cage injury.

Tuiasosopo has resumed full baseball activities and could get in a short rehab assignment with Toledo before getting activated by Detroit this weekend. He should be a real boost in left field, where left-handed hitting Andy Dirks (.245) is in a 1-for-13 slump and supplying little power. Leyland had begun starting the right-handed hitting Tuiasosopo against some right-handed starters before he was injured.

Outfielder Avisail Garcia (.241) is a top prospect, but will be optioned when Tuiasosopo is available. Garcia is in a 1-for-21 slump with 10 strikeouts.

Leyland said that Avila, batting .172 with five homers and 13 RBIs for Detroit, needed to do more than show he was healthy after going on the disabled list with a bruised left forearm. He started out 1-for-12 with the Mud Hens, but has gone 7-for-21 (.333) since, with one homer and five RBIs.

Avila’s strikeouts have persisted in Toledo, where he’s fanned 10 times in 33 at-bats. He was striking out slightly more than once every three at-bats for Detroit.

Tigers pitchers enjoy throwing to switch-hitting catcher Brayan Pena, who is batting .290.

However, Detroit has gone 5-9 since Avila went on the disabled list and the starters have been 3-7. The only starter to win with Avila out has been Scherzer, winning three times to push his record to 12-0. There have been six quality starts in the 14 games and Sanchez has been out, too.

So, while Detroit’s pitchers likely miss Avila, it might be a mistake to correlate too much of the recent bump in the road to his absence.

There is no question that Detroit reaches the half-way mark of the season as a disappointment. They project to an 86-76 record.

The www.bovada.lv website in Las Vegas still loves the Tigers. They released updated odds on teams winning the World Series on Monday and Detroit topped the list with 13/2 odds. The St. Louis Cardinals (15/2) are the National League favorites.

And what about the Indians, who have caught and passed the Tigers? Bovada has them 10th in the AL with 28-1 odds.