DETROIT -- Tigers manager Jim Leyland said he can normally write down the next day's lineup immediately after that day's game is over. Not the case Wednesday, as he struggled with the decision of whether to start Ryan Raburn or Quintin Berry against Twins left-hander Scott Diamond.
"I tossed and turned with it today to play Berry or Raburn. I ended up playing Raburn," said Leyland, who made his final choice about five minutes before meeting with the media. "The thought process is, if Raburn doesn't help us against left-handers, then we have issues."
Raburn has 11 hits in 62 at-bats against left-handers this season, which is good for a .177 batting average. He is batting .176 overall, with a home run and 10 RBIs.
The skipper decided to give Raburn the nod in Wednesday night's 5-1 win over the Twins, but the 31-year-old was 0-for-4. In the fifth inning, he grounded into an inning-ending double play with runners on first and second in a 2-1 game.
Berry's had a much better season, batting .295 and leading the team with 12 stolen bases. But his .219 average against left-handers isn't all that much better than Raburn's.
"Lefties are hitting [.324] off [Diamond]," Leyland said. "Raburn got the nod, Raburn's 2-for-6 off him. Berry's never seen him. But the one dimension that Berry has if Raburn's not going to hit, Berry has some speed. He might bunt or generate a run for you ... I'm kind of playing the string out right now to see if Raburn's going to do something."
Thursday's game marks the second of five straight for the Tigers against left-handers. The team is 9-13 on the year facing lefties, including Wednesday night's victory against Twins southpaw Brian Duensing. At 40-42 entering Thursday's series finale, they need to win their remaining four games to finish with an overall record above .500 at the All-Star break. To do that, they'll need more production from right-handed hitters not named Austin Jackson or Miguel Cabrera.
"Jhonny Peralta, Delmon Young and Ryan Raburn have to do something against left-handed pitching," Leyland said. "It's that simple. They were all in the lineup last night, and I don't mean this critically, I'm just making a general point about what the Tigers need if we're going to get rolling. We've got to get something out of those guys."
That trio went 2-for-12 in the game and was hitless off lefties. Peralta is batting .209 against southpaws, whereas the skipper might have been more focused on Wednesday night's game when speaking about Young, who is hitting .299.
Leyland: Downs' relief key to comeback win
DETROIT -- Tigers reliever Darin Downs wasn't in the clubhouse Thursday after the Tigers' 7-3, come-from-behind win against the Twins to talk about his performance. But his teammates weren't short on praise, starting with the skipper.
"He threw the ball all over the plate, threw the breaking ball all over the plate, changed speeds, good curveball, good cutter. He was very impressive," said manager Jim Leyland following Downs' three innings of scoreless relief. "To me, obviously at the end, the [offense was] huge for us, I certainly don't want to downplay that, but to me with the shape our bullpen way in today, Downs was the key to the game."
Downs, who was called up from Triple-A Toledo on Tuesday, took over after a line drive by Ryan Doumit hit Rick Porcello in the right biceps, hastening the Tigers starter's exit from the game. Porcello's day wasn't going too hot anyway, allowing 12 hits in 3 2/3 innings before getting hooked with the bases loaded.
Duane Below remained unavailable because of his 60-pitch start Tuesday, Phil Coke was sent home sick Thursday morning, and Leyland didn't want to use Brayan Villarreal unless absolutely necessary. So the team needed an innings eater to keep the game within reach.
In his second-career Major League game, the 27-year-old got out of the fourth-inning jam and completed three innings of one-hit ball while striking out five of the 10 batters he faced.
"He came out and really proved himself today," outfielder Quintin Berry said. "He really was a big part in this win, and we were short-staffed in the 'pen. So for him to come out and go that many innings, that's huge, man. Good for him. I'm proud of him."
When Downs took the mound, the Tigers were being out-hit, 12-0, and were down, 3-0 on the scoreboard. The Twins were threatening for more but the rookie left-hander needed only one pitch to retire first baseman Justin Morneau in the bases-loaded situation.
He returned in the fifth to record two quick outs before shortstop Brian Dozier knocked a bloop single just out of the reach of second baseman Ramon Santiago. Dozier stole second, but a lineout by Carroll ended the inning.
Downs finished the day striking out four of the last five hitters, including a former American League Most Valuable Player and three-time AL batting champion in catcher Joe Mauer.
"He made my day easy," catcher Gerald Laird said. "He was throwing everything for a strike, getting ahead of the hitters, and when I asked him for it down and away or down in the dirt, he was making the pitch. It was fun to be back there with him. He did a great job for the first time working with him. The kid's got some talent."
Banged-up Avila gets break from starting lineup
DETROIT -- Tigers catcher Alex Avila got a scheduled day off Thursday, and manager Jim Leyland said Avila will likely get another break in the upcoming Royals series as they try to keep him fresh for a second-half run.
"He's sore. He's beat up," Leyland said. "He got hit on the inside of the leg the other night. He had a little pulled muscle reaching up for one of those intentional walk throws that [Brayan] Villarreal threw [Tuesday]."
Those are just the minor issues. Avila has also suffered through hamstring and knee injuries this season, so the All-Star break might be a blessing in disguise for the Tigers' backstop.
For outfielder Andy Dirks, he's still not close to returning from dealing with lingering right Achilles tendinitis, Leyland said. The skipper was asked if he was being told Dirks would be back with the team after the break and quickly responded with a "No."
"We got a little better news on Dirks, but I don't know when that's going to happen," Leyland said. "He's going to have to go out and play a while, he's been out a long time. He's going to have to go out and get some at-bats, but I don't even know when that's going to be."
Right-hander Max Scherzer, who missed his scheduled start Tuesday with a minor left hamstring strain, is still on schedule to make his start Sunday against Kansas City.
Miggy amazes even those who know him best
DETROIT -- He wasn't voted in as an All-Star Game starter, and -- with Justin Verlander also around -- he may not be the best player on his own team. But third baseman Miguel Cabrera is quietly putting together an MVP-caliber season.
Cabrera is among the league's elite in almost all offensive categories. His 106 hits and 68 RBIs both entered Thursday's games ranked as second most in the Majors, and he was also the only Major Leaguer with 100-plus hits and 60-plus RBIs. His .323 batting average was ranked sixth in the American League, he was fifth in doubles, sixth in slugging percentage, seventh in on-base percentage and ninth in on-base plus slugging.
The only thing that is slightly lacking is home runs. But after a 3-for-3, two-home run performance Wednesday against the Twins, he's closing in on the AL's top-10 in that category as well -- he entered Thursday 12th.
One of those homers Wednesday was on a pitch below the knees, which Cabrera struck for what appeared to be a deep line drive. But the ball sailed into the shrubs in center field for the 29-year-old's third bomb to center at Comerica Park this year.
"Well, he's just a little bit different, needless to say," manager Jim Leyland said. "He's awful special. You just don't find guys that can hit balls like that. I mean, that was actually a line drive he hit out to center field. That wasn't one of those towering, high fly balls. That was actually a line drive. There's not many people that can do that. He's a little bit different."
Catcher Alex Avila echoed the skipper's statements.
"I've seen Miguel do things that are just ... not humanly possible for a baseball player, and he seems to do it, and every single day, every single year," Avila told Fox Sports Detroit after the game. "It's pretty unbelievable."
Though Rick Porcello left Thursday's game after taking a line drive off his right biceps, he's expected to be fine for his first start after the All-Star break. He will not pitch in relief this weekend.
The Tigers have released third-base prospect Adelin Santa at his request this week, one year after the team signed the Dominican teenager for a $750,000 bonus. The release was requested for personal reasons, according to a source.
Add Thursday's 1-hour, 22-minute rain delay to the delays over the previous two games, and the Tigers and Twins waited through 5 hours and 18 minutes of rain delays in the series.
Anthony Odoardi is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.