DETROIT -- Tigers All-Star catcher Alex Avila was honored on Saturday with the MLB Players Association's Heart and Hustle Award, presented annually to one player from each big league team who demonstrates a passion for the game of baseball and best embodies the values, spirit and tradition of the game.
The award is voted on by committees of Major League alumni set up by the MLBPA for each of the 30 teams. The Detroit committee selected Avila before his recent stretch of catching every inning for 18 consecutive games over a three-week span, but it demonstrated the work ethic and desire that went into selection for the honor.
Tigers great Willie Horton, a special assistant with the team, presented the award in a pregame ceremony at Comerica Park. Alex's father, Tigers vice president and assistant general manager Al Avila, accepted the award on his behalf, since Alex was busy warming up Brad Penny in the bullpen.
By winning the local award, Avila is nominated for the national honor, which will be voted on by Major League alumni as well as current players. The national winner will be announced on Thursday, Nov. 3 at the annual Legends for Youth Dinner in New York.
Leyland not a fan of expanded rosters
DETROIT -- Tigers manager Jim Leyland has never been a fan of expanding Major League rosters in September. It takes away the strategy of playing matchups, he has always said, when the other team has so many more players available to use.
But if Leyland was ever going to get out pom-poms for September callups, it would be this year.
The Tigers haven't filled out the roster anywhere near 40, but they're already taking advantage of the guys they've called up. Andy Dirks, a key part of the Tigers outfield until he was sent down in mid-August, started in right field Saturday afternoon against White Sox right-hander Gavin Floyd. Carlos Guillen, who was activated from the 15-day disabled list on Sept. 1 so that the Tigers didn't have to make a move to make room, started at second base for the first time since his return.
Jacob Turner, who made his second Major League start Thursday for the Tigers after his September callup, began his throwing program on Saturday to be ready in case the Tigers need an extra starter down the stretch. Luis Marte was available for a strikeout situation out of the bullpen. Will Rhymes was available as a pinch-hitter or pinch-runner.
Add it up, and the Tigers currently have 30 players on their roster. They'll have one more for sure on Monday, when Omir Santos is eligible to be recalled from Triple-A Toledo, and likely another later in the week once Danny Worth is eligible to return.
That doesn't mean Leyland suddenly loves the rule.
"I hope that they have a set number at some point, whatever they decide, whether it's 28, 30," Leyland said. "You have to use the system if it's there for you. I don't agree with it. I think you should only be able to bring up five guys, [or have] five guys active, 30 active every night. That's it. Bring up as many as you want, but you can only have 30 active every night. That way, it's fair for both sides.
"Like I said, you can't really get matchups this time of year. Guys can just counter a pinch-hitter. They've got extra players. We do, too. So you use the system, but I hope it's something that they change."
Leyland is a member of the Special Committee for On-Field Issues that Commissioner Bud Selig assembled two years ago. He did not indicate whether that was a topic of discussion.
"It doesn't make sense much to me to play one way for 5 1/2 months and then another way for the last month," Leyland said. "I've never really understood that, but that's OK. That's the way the system is. I respect the system. So we'll use it like everybody else does."
Boesch's thumb sore after splint experiment
DETROIT -- Brennan Boesch tried swinging on Friday with the splint the Tigers put together for him, but after experiencing some swelling around the thumb on Saturday morning, he said it's still a work in progress.
The good news for Boesch was that it was the first time he was able to swing a bat in quite a while. But that doesn't mean that he'll be able to endure it in a game.
The Tigers and Boesch are trying the splint after talking earlier this week with Royals outfielder Jeff Francoeur, who wore the same thing after tearing a ligament in his thumb late in the 2009 season. He wore it down the stretch and the next spring after undergoing offseason surgery to repair the ligament.
Whether the splint works for Boesch, who has a different swing than Francoeur, remains to be seen. Boesch tore a ligament in his thumb three weeks ago in Cleveland.
Revolving door at second base
DETROIT -- One day after Ramon Santiago made a diving catch up the middle in support of Justin Verlander, he got a day off on Saturday in favor of Carlos Guillen at second base. With four second basemen on the roster, that'll be a pattern for the foreseeable future.
Guillen, who was activated from the 15-day disabled list on Thursday, became the third Tiger this week to start at second base, joining Santiago and Ryan Raburn. Will Rhymes, also called up on Thursday, also could get some game action at second base, manager Jim Leyland said. Leyland said Raburn will start there Sunday night.
"I'm playing everybody, for better or worse," Leyland said.
That doesn't mean he doesn't like what he's getting at second base. Santiago, in particular, has made a late impression. Though he went 0-for-3 on Friday night, his diving stop up the middle took a hit away from Verlander's line.
"He's done a heckuva job," Leyland said.