05/04/10 1:31 AM ET
Willis looks for encore performance vs. Twins
By Jonathan Mayo / MLB.com
Willis has had a bit of a resurgence here in 2010, having generally pitched solid baseball at the back end of the Tigers' rotation. When he beat Minnesota in Detroit, it was the second of a five-game winning streak that was snapped by the Twins on Monday. And while it might just be early May, given the history between these two teams, Willis understands the need to try to keep pace with Minnesota as best the Tigers can.
"When this same ballclub forced us into a 163rd game [last year], every game is vital," Willis said. "I think this division is going to be a battle. With the White Sox starting to play better and Kansas City always giving us a run for our money, it's going to be a tough division. So we have to win these tough ballgames and really kind of separate ourselves."
To do that, Willis will have to contend with one of those "M's," Justin Morneau. Morneau missed Willis last time as he dealt with a stiff back. The first baseman is back in full swing and carrying a four-game hitting streak after his two-hit night on Monday.
The other 'M,' of course, is Joe Mauer, who's been dealing with a bruised heel for the past few days. But it looks like the Twins have found an able replacement, at least in the short-term in the form of Wilson Ramos. The 22-year-old catcher was brought up when Mauer went down with the injury and they didn't bring him up to watch.
After hitting .400 this spring in big league camp, he was scuffling down in Triple-A. That hasn't seemed to have affected him in any deep way as Ramos made his big league debut on Sunday and went 4-for-5 against the Indians. He had three more hits on Monday night, giving him a 7-for-9 start to his career.
"I don't mind putting him in," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "That's why we called him up. In Spring Training, he had a great spring. We sent him down for a reason so he could start and play every day. If something happened here where we needed him for a few days in a row then we'd bring him up. So that's exactly what happened."
Tigers: Catching musical chairs
To say that Tigers manager Jim Leyland doesn't like the concept of a personal catcher would be a vast undertstatement. That's why it might have been a little bit of a surprise that Alex Avila hadn't caught Justin Verlander this year until Sunday and Gerald Laird hadn't been behind the plate for Max Scherzer until Monday night.
Verlander and Avila clearly clicked, as the right-hander pitched into the ninth inning against the Angels. The Laird-Scherzer combination didn't turn out too well, with Scherzer getting torched for 10 runs on eight hits over 4 1/3 innings on Monday night. That being said, don't expect it necessarily to be Avila catching Scherzer next time around.
"I thought [Avila] did a good job with Verlander," Leyland said. "Justin is his own guy and he shakes a lot, no matter who catches, but I thought Alex did a good job with him.
"The catcher can put down signs until the cows come home, but the pitcher's got to be able to locate the ball. The more pitches you can throw over the plate, and the more control you have over your fastball, the more flexibility the catcher has."
Twins: Mauer still out
Mauer missed his third straight game on Monday night and it's looking less likely that the Tigers will have to deal with getting the MVP catcher out this series.
The bone bruise in his heel is improving slowly, but the Twins obviously don't want to rush him back needlessly.
"We're just going day-to-day with him and let him make sure we get this thing well," Gardenhire said. "That's why we brought another catcher up here so we can get this thing well. It doesn't do any good to put him out there too quick and let him just keep jamming it and let him have a bad heel for a month.
"So we're going to let him get well here. Whether it's a day or two, I don't know."
Tigers outfielder Austin Jackson has gotten on base in 21 straight games. ... Tigers pitchers gave up walks for the first time in three games on Monday (Scherzer walked four), missing a chance to be just the third team since 1920 to go three straight walkless games since at least 1920 (July 19-2, 1984 and July 23-26, 1997). ... Twins second baseman Orlando Hudson has a 10-game hitting streak and has hit in 20 of his last 23 games. After starting 1-for-12 he's gone 32-for-96 (.333). His 18 hits since April 23 are the second most in the American League, trailing only Jackson's 23.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.