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Detroit Tigers Notes And Quotes 5-20-11

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–RHP Justin Verlander has turned in three excellent starts in a row. Verlander followed his no-hitter by allowing two hits in eight innings in his next start, then three runs on six hits over eight innings Thursday at Boston. Two solo home runs prevented him from gaining a win, but two Detroit solo shots kept him from walking away with a loss. Verlander was nearly half-and-half mixing fastballs with off-speed pitches through the first five innings, but he went more to his heater after that and ended with nine strikeouts. “I definitely didn’t have my best stuff,” Verlander said. “The good news is my curveball still was.”

–LF Andy Dirks has acquitted himself well in his first two major league starts. Dirks singled in his second plate appearance (following a walk) in his opening game and collected his first big-league RBI in his second start. Dirks sliced a low, outside pitch into left with runners on first and third in the second inning. He was sixth in the batting order but has been given a look by manager Jim Leyland in the second spot because of his batting style.

–CF Austin Jackson had a pair of singles to keep his hot May going. Jackson is hitting more than .300 for the month and has an 11-game hitting streak going. Jackson struck out once but was chasing high fastballs all night.

–RF Brennan Boesch broke an 0-for-15 slump with a leadoff home run in the eighth inning. However, he came up in the ninth with the bases loaded and one out and fanned on three consecutive high, outside fastballs. While the stats say Boesch isn’t hitting, he has only occasionally looked overmatched.

–RHP Al Alburquerque had to throw more fastballs than he has in quite a while, and that produced mixed results. Alburquerque was the losing pitcher in large part because he walked the leadoff hitter, Boston 3B Kevin Youkilis, on a 3-2 fastball. His slider wasn’t quite as sharp as it has been, and once he gave up a single and an intentional walk to load the bases with nobody out in the ninth, he had to stay with his fastball. He couldn’t risk throwing a slider that might have gotten away from C Alex Avila and let the winning run stroll home. The game-winning hit came off a belt-high fastball.

–LF Ryan Raburn is struggling again, and whether that translates into more playing time for rookie callup OF Andy Dirks is something that will bear watching. Raburn did not play, with Dirks taking over for him, and he will take an .098 May batting average into Friday’s game at Pittsburgh. He hit .253 in April but has sunk steadily since. “Right now, he’s working under the ball and his swing has been long,” manager Jim Leyland said. “If we can get that straightened out, he’ll be fine. But that’s what he’s doing. His swing is too long, and he’s working underneath the ball all the time.”

Raburn said, “The last two, three weeks have been a struggle. I just have to keep working, keep battling, and I know it’ll come around.”

–RHP Joaquin Benoit is taking corrective steps with pitching coach Rick Knapp in an effort to get his effectiveness back. He’s been held out of action since losing Monday’s game with Toronto. “We are trying to get him to understand a little bit about what his body is doing and how it’s affecting the ball: the stride length, the leg lift, the hand out of his glove,” Knapp said. “There are certain check marks that he needs to get back to that were evident last year when he was on a roll. Right now, I don’t know if he can rely on his delivery to execute pitches. That’s really the thing we’re working on.”

Benoit has allowed 14 runs (12 earned) his last five innings. He gave up just nine earned runs all of last season with Tampa Bay to earn a $16.5 million deal with Detroit.

“We had him throw some (Tuesday) to get a feel for how his legs are and how his balance is on the pitching rubber,” Knapp said. “We tried to get him to feel a little bit about what he’s doing with his weight transfer and how all that translates into the release point. I felt good about some of the progress we made. I brought up some things that maybe he hadn’t done in a while. He was wide open for suggestions.”

BY THE NUMBERS
42 — Games from the start of the season in which Detroit has had at least one extra-base hit. A pair of solo home runs kept the streak alive Thursday.

QUOTE TO NOTE
“We’re just not doing a good enough job of putting the ball in play, getting a base hit when you really need one. We’re fighting to get that guy in, we’re just not doing it.” — Manager Jim Leyland, on his team’s struggles to score runs this week.

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