First pitch: Avila returns after concussion recovery


DETROIT – Detroit Tigers catcher Alex Avila returned from the seven-day concussion disabled list Tuesday, and was back in starting lineup against the Oakland A’s. He’d been through plenty in the last three weeks, having had his left ear bleed after taking a foul ball off his catcher’s mask and experiencing headaches and nausea before a concussion was diagnosed.

“The whole process was scary,” Avila said. “It was a little bit of a nightmare.”
Catchers take more of a beating than any player on the field. Bumps, bruises and injuries can take a toll. But Avila, as Tigers manager Jim Leyland has often noted, seems to feel the brunt of the position far more than others.

Avila was asked about the fear of long-range problems that could develop as a result of concussions.

“That has been on my mind,” he said. “But it’s good to know there are people who care about me as far as making sure I’m healthy.”

One step in that direction is the new mask he will wear soon be wearing behind the plate.

“It’s heavier and bulkier,” Avila said. “The biggest difference between it and my old mask is the weight and thickness. Oh yeah, it’s more of a shock absorber. I’m looking forward to when it arrives in the next couple days.”

Still, he doesn’t see improved masks as an end-all to head injuries.

“The equipment is evolving,” Avila said. “It’s always getting better. Look at the NFL. Those helmets are as good as they come and they still have concussions.”

Avila batted .273 (3-for-11) with five walks for the Mud Hens, and got two hits in Monday night’s game. He was deemed ready to return after experiencing no problems afterward.

He will bat eighth Tuesday night against A’s left-hander Tommy Milone. Avila has excelled in handling pitchers, but has been striving to return to his offensive production in 2011, when he started the All-Star Game for the American League.  He’s batting .198 with nine doubles, nine homers and 36 RBI in 253 at-bats.

Catcher Bryan Holaday was optioned to Toledo to make room for Avila, but made a favorable impression and will be recalled when major league rosters expand Sunday. He hit .280 with his first major league homer and two RBI in 25 at-bats.

“Holaday’s done a terrific job,” Leyland said. “He had his first homer and had some big hits. He’s getting more comfortable that he can play in the big leagues.”

Holaday, 26, batted .250 in 12 at-bats for the 2012 American League champions. He was Detroit’s sixth-round pick in 2010, after winning the Johnny Bench Award as the nation’s top college catcher for Texas Christian.

Leyland said he doesn’t want to use Jeremy Bonderman in Tuesday night’s game, and termed Al Alburquerque and Jose Alvarez as “question marks,” adding that “they could all pitch in an emergency” situation.” Bonderman threw 40 pitches Monday night after throwing 15 on Sunday, while Alburquerque (25 pitches) and Alvarez (21 pitches) also exceeded the normal range in their Monday outings.

— Veteran reliever Octavio Dotel could end up on the postseason pitching roster after being on the disabled list with right elbow inflammation since April 20. He struck out two and allowed one hit in one inning Monday night for Toledo on his rehabilitation assignment.

— Omar Infante has batted .370 in 13 games since returning from the disabled list with a sprained left ankle, and leads all American League second baseman with a .317 overall average.

— Coco Crisp (.364) is the only Oakland hitter with more than three at-bats and an average higher than .286 against Tuesday night Tigers starter Justin Verlander, who is 2-3 in his last seven starts.