NEW YORK -- Duane Below thought he had blown his chance at cracking the Tigers' rotation with a wild outing at the end of Spring Training. As long as Doug Fister remains out, Below is getting another shot.
After taking a day to mull it over, manager Jim Leyland announced Friday that Below will start in Fister's place Monday against the Royals. Unless something unforeseen happen, Below will likely remain in the rotation until Fister comes back.
"We weighed all our options," Leyland said, "and after discussing that yesterday for a long time, we decided that until Fister comes back, that's probably the best way to go."
It's the way they nearly went to start the season until Drew Smyly won the fifth-starter's job out of camp. Below was optioned to Triple-A Toledo briefly until Luis Marte landed on the disabled list with a strained left hamstring on his last day of camp.
Below picked up wins in each of his first two long relief outings in a season-opening sweep of the Red Sox. He still shares the team lead in wins with Justin Verlander, while Below has yet to surrender a run over 12 innings of seven-hit ball with no walks and nine strikeouts.
It's the type of pitching Below was seeking when he was fighting for a rotation spot. Now that he's starting again, he hopes to take some of the lessons he has learned in long relief.
"I'm trying to stay ready, making sure my mind's in the game at all times and keeping my presence on the game itself rather than wandering off, because you never know in the bullpen when I was going to go in, or when I'd be needed," Below said. "That's the biggest thing, staying focused."
At this point, Below seems likely to get at least two starts. Though Fister said Friday he felt great after throwing 50 pitches off the mound the day before, he and Tigers head athletic trainer Kevin Rand said there are no plans on the next step.
Given how much time Fister has missed -- he was injured three weeks ago Saturday -- he seems likely to need a Minor League rehab assignment.
"I would think so at this point," Leyland said. "I would assume that he's going to have to make one start for sure."
Eldred notches RBI triple in debut with Tigers
NEW YORK -- Brad Eldred is a slugging first baseman and designated hitter who bounced around the Minors the past few years. He signed with the Tigers, an organization that already has two slugging first basemen, thinking maybe he could get a look.
"I thought, 'Well, this type of organization, the guys that hit balls over the fence -- if I pull my end of the bargain, maybe something will happen,'" Eldred said. "I was able to do well starting out, and I'm here now. It's been working well so far."
In his first at-bat wearing a Tigers uniform, Eldred hit a first-pitch RBI triple, a sinking line drive that bounced past Raul Ibanez in left field to plate Detroit's first run off Yankees starter Ivan Nova. Eldred added a fifth-inning infield single into a hole at shortstop before reaching on an error an inning later.
Eldred is expected to start Saturday and Sunday. Even if the Tigers are trying to catch lightning in a bottle, they're going to give it every chance to show.
Eldred's numbers at Triple-A Toledo were tough to believe: He hit .388 with the Hens, and his 13 homers and 35 RBIs through 20 games led all of Minor League Baseball. So did his 1,013 slugging percentage -- not OPS, slugging.
When did it hit Eldred that he had something special going?
"Probably [not] until almost the last game I played there," he said. "I had a three-homer game the one game. I knew I had a lot of home runs at that point. I was like, 'Wow, I already have eight or nine home runs. This is going pretty good.' Then I hit three, and I'm like, 'Whoa, this is a little ridiculous.' Then the last game I hit one as well. It felt like whenever I got a decent pitch that I wasn't missing, it ended up being a home run.
Teammates, he said, "were kind of messing with me the whole time, saying, 'You know, it's OK to hit a single.'"
Raburn gets chance to claim second-base job
NEW YORK -- One day after the Tigers released Brandon Inge to help clear the logjam at second base, Ryan Raburn began his effort to eliminate the mix altogether. He's going to get his shot.
"I'm going to run Raburn out there and see if he can be the second baseman and use [Ramon Santiago] at short and second from time to time," manager Jim Leyland said. "I'm going to run Raburn out there for a few days in a row."
It's an interesting decision, given Raburn's trend of early-season struggles over the past several years. But it's an effort to try to eliminate any stress over his situation.
Raburn was mired in a 4-for-44 slump before going 2-for-3 with an RBI in Thursday's loss to the Mariners. Whether that's enough to get him out of his season-opening skid remains to be seen with Freddy Garcia and CC Sabathia awaiting the mound for the Yankees over the weekend. Raburn is 1-for-9 off Garcia and 4-for-24 off Sabathia.
The hope is that the repetitions will help. It's similar to Leyland's approach with Raburn leading into last summer, which finally yielded results around midseason.
Part of it, too, is a reaction to the rest of the lineup. Now that the Tigers have Brad Eldred up amid a scorching-hot April, Leyland said he's going to make him the regular designated hitter.
"We're going to have a regular DH for a while," Leyland said. "How long that's going to go on, I have no idea."
As long as it goes, Raburn has to either play at second or left field. And Leyland has other plans in left.
"That means Raburn won't have to play out there [in left]," Leyland said. "Get [Andy] Dirks some playing time. Get [Don] Kelly some playing time. Maybe move Raburn out there late in the game in a defensive situation, where you want to put Santiago at second."