DETROIT -- After going 0-for-8 in his first two games at Triple-A Toledo, catcher Alex Avila is finally starting to heat up at the plate in his minor-league rehab assignment.
Avila, who joined the Mud Hens on rehab on Monday, hit a pair of doubles Wednesday in a 5-4 loss at Pawtucket. One was an RBI liner to right in the fourth inning, the other was a fly ball to center in the sixth, both off Red Sox farmhand Steven Wright. Avila took a called third strike in the seventh.
The doubles raised Avila's numbers to 3-for-16 with five strikeouts in four games, three of them as a designated hitter. Considering manager Jim Leyland said earlier in the week that Avila's hitting will be as important as his health during his rehab, it's a step in the right direction.
Avila will have at least a few more games through the end of the week before he's eligible to come off the disabled list on Tuesday.
Simulated game goes well for Anibal
DETROIT -- The smile on Anibal Sanchez's face as he walked off the mound at Comerica Park on Thursday morning made him look like a pitcher very close to returning to game action. That return, however, won't happen until next weekend at the earliest.
After throwing about 40 pitches by his count in a simulated game, Sanchez said he'll pitch in a Minor League rehab start next Monday. Sanchez said that will likely take place at Class A Lakeland, where Sanchez can drive over after the Tigers finish their weekend series at Tampa Bay.
"Everything's normal, everything's back on track," Sanchez said, "so I think I just need to wait for the process. I threw like three innings today, so I'm probably going to have another start for five innings, 60 pitches, something like that. After that, we see for [coming] back with the team."
The Tigers have not confirmed a rehab start for Sanchez. No decision will be finalized, manager Jim Leyland said, until at least Friday.
"We're going to wait and see how he feels tomorrow," Leyland said, "and then we'll see what happens. But he did have a good session, and the ball was coming out real good. So we'll probably find out tomorrow whether he's good to go or not."
Sanchez has spent the past week and a half on the 15-day disabled list with a right shoulder strain that has impacted him for a few weeks. The hope when Sanchez went on the DL was that he'd miss just two starts before returning on Monday for the Tigers' series opener in Toronto.
Jose Alvarez has taken Sanchez's spot in the rotation the last two turns, and he will again on Monday. Sanchez is hoping to return to his rotation spot the next turn, which would fall on July 6 in Cleveland.
Valverde clears waivers, heads to Triple-A
DETROIT -- Jose Valverde might not be finished with the Tigers just yet, even after being designated for assignment a week ago. The team announced on Thursday that its former closer cleared waivers and accepted an outright assignment to Triple-A Toledo.
The Tigers brought up the idea with Valverde when they gave him the news on Friday, and made it clear they were hoping he might take them up on their offer. The idea behind the move was to give Valverde the chance to work on his pitching, especially the splitter he has struggled to throw consistently, in lower-pressure situations.
"I'm glad he's going to stay in the organization and just see if he can possibly go down there and get it straightened out," manager Jim Leyland said Thursday.
The assignment comes with no guarantee Valverde will make it back. But the Tigers don't have a set closer to replace him, and the fact that no other team claimed him on waivers made this likely the best opportunity he was going to find.
"We'll take a look at his velocity and the movement on his pitches, command on his pitches and his ability to throw a split-finger, which when we first brought him back we thought was very important for him. He really has struggled with that," team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said last week. "Again, I think a lot of it is mechanically related. When [Tigers pitching coach] Jeff Jones talks about it, his arm angle is a little bit lower than we would like. That's what we would look for."
Valverde was expected to make a stop in Toledo on his way back to the big leagues in April after he signed a Minor League contract, but the Tigers promoted him straight from Class A Lakeland. The 35-year-old hasn't pitched at the Triple-A level since 2006 in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization.
It's unclear whether Valverde will be closing for the Mud Hens, who have had Bruce Rondon thriving in the ninth inning for most of the season.
Jackson on fire since return from DL
DETROIT -- The Tigers have had to keep an eye on Austin Jackson's hamstring since his return from the disabled list two weeks ago. They have not, however, had to worry about his bat.
Jackson entered Thursday's homestand finale against the Angels with a 10-game hitting streak, his longest since last summer and the fifth-longest of his career. Though he went 0-for-3 with a walk and a hit-by-pitch vs. the Halos, he enters this weekend's series at Tampa Bay with a .301 average.
For someone who had just three rehab games at Triple-A Toledo before he returned from the DL on June 14, it's a fast start.
Moreover, Jackson has coupled those hits with walks -- six of them in the previous three games.
As Jackson goes, the Tigers' offense tends to follow. They were at their high-powered best when Jackson was reaching base to lead off innings in April. They withstood his DL stint for a couple weeks but finally showed signs of slowing in early June, but their leadoff hitter's return has them back on track.
• Manager Jim Leyland praised Torii Hunter going from second to third base on Miguel Cabrera's third-inning fly ball Wednesday, setting up the Tigers' third run of the night on Prince Fielder's ensuing single to right. "It was definitely worth a shot to get to third base with one out because he can score on a sacrifice fly," Leyland said.