DETROIT -- If Tigers starter Brad Penny thought everything was working against him in a rough start against the Angels on Thursday afternoon, he might have included his catcher on the list. Penny and All-Star Victor Martinez became an unwanted highlight when they argued with each other near the mound during the fourth inning, shortly before Penny left with his worst statistical outing in a Detroit uniform.
It was a bizarre scene for Penny, who had raved early in the season about working with Martinez behind the plate. But it was also a reflection of just how rough Penny's outing was. Penny said the issue was related to Penny coming set when Martinez was giving signs.
The exchange occurred after Penny gave up a single, triple and double to the bottom of the Halos' order to lead off the fourth inning. After Peter Bourjos' double extended the Angels' lead to 5-2, Martinez got behind the plate for the first pitch to Angels catcher Jeff Mathis. But after signaling for a set of signs twice to Penny, he got up and made a mound visit to talk with a clearly flustered Penny, yelling in his direction.
Martinez continued to the mound and answered back as fans at Comerica Park started to boo. Penny shouted and gestured again before pitching coach Jeff Jones emerged from the dugout for an unplanned visit to calm everyone down. It did not calm the Angels' attack, which tacked on another run with an Erick Aybar single following a sacrifice bunt.
"It had nothing to do with pitch selection or anything like that," Penny said. "With a runner on second, I like to come set taking signs. That way the hitter can't look at second base and anything there. I've pitched my whole career that way, and he didn't want me to do it. I know there's no other way for me. I guess it's a habit. It's natural.
"I've done it my whole career. It's not that big of a deal. Me and Victor have been friends for a while now, and that happens when you're competing."
Martinez wouldn't answer any questions on the topic.
The bunt hit from Aybar brought out hitting coach Lloyd McClendon, who became acting manager for the day after Jim Leyland was ejected an inning earlier. McClendon hadn't yet arrived at the mound to make his pitching change when Penny stepped off the mound and handed him the ball. The boos continued for Penny on his way to the dugout.
Martinez has been the catcher for eight of Penny's 21 starts this season. In fact, Martinez has caught Penny more than any other Tigers starter this season, though Thursday was the first time for the pairing since June 26. Statistically, the pairing had worked well until Thursday, with an ERA nearly two full runs lower than what Penny has hosted in 13 starts with Alex Avila behind the plate.
Beyond Martinez's status as Detroit's second catcher, however, is his leadership role on the team, a responsibility he took on almost as soon as he signed with the club as a free agent last offseason. His veteran status and All-Star career earned him instant respect from his new teammates, including Penny, who worked with him for a stretch in Boston when they were both with the Red Sox in 2009.
"It's not that he wasn't used to catching me," Penny said. "That had nothing to do with pitch selection or how I pitched today. It was totally the complete opposite of that. It was just when I was coming set taking signs."
Leyland tossed after arguing call
DETROIT -- Jim Leyland sparked discussion in recent weeks about the need to ease tensions between managers and umpires, but there's a limit to his calm demeanor. He reached it Thursday afternoon, earning his second ejection of the week in the Tigers' series opener against the Angels at Comerica Park.
It was the fourth ejection of the season for Leyland, all coming in a span of just over four weeks. Thursday's ejection was the second to occur while Leyland was in the dugout.
Leyland's frustrations began with home-plate umpire Brian Knight during a third-inning at-bat by Austin Jackson, who appeared to take a pitch in on the hands from Angels starter Joel Pineiro. Knight ruled it a foul ball, and Leyland emerged from the dugout for an animated discussion.
"The fact of the matter is ... Austin Jackson got a bruise of his hand the size of a baseball," Leyland said. "My players think I've lost my mind if [I] don't go out after something like that. It appeared to me, obviously, that it was a missed call."
At that point, Knight opted not to eject Leyland, who went back into the dugout. Once Leyland continued yelling from there, however, first-base umpire Jerry Layne tossed him from across the infield. The Tigers were initially confused about who had been ejected, and hitting coach Lloyd McClendon was looking as if he had been tossed. Once Leyland realized it was him, he handed his charts to McClendon and promptly walked down the tunnel to the clubhouse.
"The only thing I was checking on, really, is why you can't check with other umpires," Leyland said. "I guess on some calls [you can] and other calls you can't, which has kind of been confusing to me. But I have no issue. The call is the call and hey, you live with that. ... I knew it hit him.
"Sometimes the bat and the hand, it gets confusing to umpires and people watching the game and everybody else. But in this case, it hit him flush on the hand, obviously. He's got the battle scar to show it. But that's OK. I have no problem with that."
Leyland was ejected on Monday in Chicago for arguing balls and strikes. He also had a memorable argument with umpire Joe West on July 5 in Anaheim, the last time the Tigers faced the Angels, after West ejected him from the dugout.
Alburquerque dealing with mild inflammation
DETROIT -- The good news for Al Alburquerque is that the elbow issues that left him unable to pitch on Wednesday don't appear to be anything serious. An examination by the team medical staff on Thursday morning revealed what head athletic trainer Kevin Rand characterized as mild inflammation around Alburquerque's elbow, which he hopes they can clear up with a little rest over the next few days.
"The flexor tendinitis, that's fine," Rand said. "He's just got some mild inflammation around the joint now that we've just got to work through. It's all interrelated."
The bad news is that it's a reminder that the Tigers still need to watch how their rookie relief sensation is used. As nasty as his slider can be, the temptation to overuse him can be a risk.
To be fair, the inflammation is a separate issue from the flexor tendinitis that landed him on the disabled list a few weeks ago. That was more around the forearm, though it was related to the elbow. Still, the two different symptoms point towards the same reason to exercise caution with him.
Alburquerque hasn't pitched since tossing a scoreless inning on Sunday at Minnesota, but Rand said no issue popped up until Wednesday. The Tigers have been careful to watch his use since his return from the DL after the All-Star break. He has thrown 4 1/3 scoreless innings since then, with four stranded runners, a walk and six strikeouts.
The flexor tendinitis forced Alburquerque to the DL on July 1, leaving a hole in Detroit's middle relief corps. But his stay on the DL was brief, consisting mainly of rest for the arm.
Avila takes foul balls frequently and in stride
DETROIT -- As Alex Avila walked out of the dugout for batting practice on Thursday, Tigers manager Jim Leyland asked him what he was doing.
Avila had the day off, and his manager jokingly instructed him to go get a massage, given that he's been getting hit by so many foul balls of late.
In fact, Leyland, a former catcher himself, said he can't believe how much Avila has been getting hit recently.
"[Avila's] caught a lot of games and probably gets hit more than any catcher I've seen with foul balls," Leyland said. "I've never seen anything like it. ... He got smoked. He's getting a little blow today."
Leyland said before the second half began that he would have to give Avila rest, so he didn't wear down. But the increase in foul balls hitting him is something that is hard to predict.
"There's not much you can do," Avila said. "It's part of the game, part of the job. ... For some reason or another, I just happen to get hit more throughout the season."
Avila began to play catcher full-time in his final season at the University of Alabama, and that has continued in his professional career. He said the fear of getting hit by foul balls is one that many new catchers face.
"There's a mental barrier that you have to get over -- a fear of a baseball," Avila said. "You're sitting and they throw a ball at you and it hits you, your reaction is to get out of the way. Mine isn't. I'm supposed to be in front of it.
"When I first moved, there's a mental block that you have to get over, but it's just more something that you have to get over. If you don't get over it, then you're not going to be any good. Find another job."
Peralta has proven to be a keeper
DETROIT -- It's hard to believe anyone could have predicted how good Jhonny Peralta would be when he joined the Tigers one year ago Thursday.
With the 2011 non-waiver Trade Deadline approaching, the Tigers are hoping to make a deal as successful as the one they made for Peralta last year.
This season, Peralta leads the Tigers and American League shortstops with a .320 average. He's also second on the team with 16 home runs and 61 RBIs.
Peralta is hitting .294 with 24 home runs since joining the Tigers. He spent most of his first eight seasons with the Indians as a shortstop. But toward the end of his time in Cleveland, he was moved to third base. Peralta has said the comfort of being back at shortstop has contributed to his success this season.
Earlier this month, Peralta made his first career All-Star appearance.
Leyland says Tigers are overswinging
DETROIT -- Tigers manager Jim Leyland said after Wednesday's loss to the White Sox that the Tigers were overswinging in important spots.
Detroit got six hits and earned three walks off Chicago starter John Danks, but it went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position and left nine runners on base.
"I just thought [that] when we had some opportunities, we got a little anxious and overswung a little bit," Leyland said Thursday. "We certainly had opportunities. We had a couple guys on three or four times; we just couldn't get that one hit."
But Leyland didn't have much concern about the trend continuing. However, there was a hitters meeting scheduled before Thursday's game.
Leyland not surprised by Santana's no-no
DETROIT -- The only starter the Tigers won't see in a four-game series against the Angels is the one who didn't give up a hit in his most recent start.
Ervin Santana's no-hitter against the Indians on Wednesday was still the talk around baseball on Thursday. Tigers manager Jim Leyland didn't see any highlights of it, but knows what Santana is capable of.
"He's got great stuff," Leyland said. "He's always had really good stuff. He's a really good pitcher."
Though they won't see Santana, the Tigers will face Dan Haren on Saturday before a highly anticipated matchup between Justin Verlander and Jered Weaver on Sunday.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. Chris Vannini is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.