TORONTO -- After a career year in 2011, Alex Avila hasn't provided the Tigers with the same production he did last season.

The backstop, who is batting .238 with six homers, 27 RBIs and a .722 OPS, sat in favor of Gerald Laird for Sunday's series finale against the Blue Jays. Manager Jim Leyland elected to stack his lineup with right-handers versus Blue Jays lefty Brett Cecil.

Avila has battled a variety of ailments this season, including a right hamstring strain that forced him to the disabled list in June. The injury is something Leyland believes has taken its toll on the 25-year-old.

"He takes a beating. I do think his knee is bothering him at times this year, and I don't think he has been able to push off it in certain games -- not all the games, but certain games," Leyland said.

Avila has suffered through tendinitis in his left knee, which has likely been compounded into a lingering issue based on his workload behind the dish.

"I do think at different points of the season, in fairness to Alex without questioning him because he is so tough, he has gone out there several times when he is not 100 percent," Leyland said. "That's certainly to his defense."

Avila broke out in a big way last season, batting .295 with 19 homers and 82 RBIs. His .895 OPS and .389 on- base percentage led all Major League catchers, while he ranked among the top five in doubles (33), home runs and RBIs.

Leyland said he did not expect Avila to provide that sort of production this season, but also didn't expect him to be hitting the way he has. The skipper felt Avila would be somewhere in between, and is confident he can find his stroke over the final two months of the year.

"I like Alex. The facts are, last year he had a huge year and he's not doing quite as well this year, obviously -- for whatever reasons," Leyland said. "Anybody that can read and write knows the numbers aren't the same.

"He doesn't panic. He's a heck of a player and I love him."

Avila has turned the page slightly on what was his worst offensive month of the season in June. He's batting .230 with a .688 OPS, along with 13 walks in July. To Avila's credit, his patience at the plate has led to a respectable .341 OBP this season.

Tigers view Anibal as a difference-maker

TORONTO -- Despite suffering a loss in his first start in a Tigers uniform, Anibal Sanchez is still viewed as an impact arm inside the clubhouse.

"He'll be good for us, no doubt in my mind. I like him," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.

The 28-year-old, who had spent his entire seven-year career with the Marlins before the Tigers acquired him and Omar Infante in a deal on Monday, has a no-hitter on his resume, and gives the Tigers another arm that can miss bats.

Sanchez was one of only three pitchers, along with Brandon Morrow and Zack Greinke, to record 200 strikeouts in less than 200 innings last season. While his strikeouts-per-nine-innings rate is down this season, he did record 14 strikeouts in a game back in April.

"He has a nice arsenal, looks like he knows what he's doing," Leyland said about Sanchez's four-pitch mix. "He has pitchability. He's not an overpowering guy, but he has pretty good velocity when he wants to have it -- 94 [miles per hour], that's pretty good. [It's a] pretty easy 94. I think he will do well for us."

Sanchez, who pounds the zone, ranks ninth in baseball in first-pitch strikes (66.8 percent), and boasts a strikeouts-to-walk-ratio over 3.00 for the second consecutive year.

He made a positive impression on the rest of his team, as well, during his outing against the Blue Jays on Saturday.

"I think he has good stuff and a good idea of how to get guys out," Brennan Boesch said. "He looks like someone who is really going to help us out."

Sanchez, who matched a career high on Saturday when he allowed three homers, has 14 quality starts in 20 outings this season.

Worth noting

• When Leyland was asked whether he expected Victor Martinez to be back with the team this season, he did not sound optimistic.

"That would strictly be a bonus," said Leyland.

Martinez has missed the entire year after undergoing left knee surgery in March.