DETROIT -- The timetable on Tigers catcher Alex Avila is picking up, enough that he could be ready to return when he's eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list Thursday.
A full day of catching work, everything short of game action, has drastically changed the outlook on his strained right hamstring.
"He had a great day today, throwing, running, hitting, catching [Justin] Verlander's bullpen," manager Jim Leyland said after Saturday's 4-1 win over the Rockies.
The hitting and running were repeats of what Avila did Friday. Verlander's bullpen session was a test for how well he can handle catching duties. Avila said he had no problems in the 25-minute session, which is about as long as Verlander normally throws.
Avila will next try to do all the same activities Sunday morning, though he'll be catching someone else's side session. If that goes well, Avila said, the plan is for him to join Triple-A Toledo on a rehab assignment when the Mud Hens return home Monday.
Avila would play three games, then be re-evaluated after Wednesday.
Leyland in process of retooling rotation
DETROIT -- The end of Casey Crosby's tenure as the Tigers' fifth starter came Friday night after his fourth-inning exit. The process of reordering the Tigers rotation began Saturday morning.
It's still far from complete, as the "TBA" listed for Thursday's matinee against the Cardinals showed. Next weekend's Interleague series at Pittsburgh is a bigger question.
As expected, the Tigers will use Monday's off-day to skip Crosby's old rotation spot and move up Justin Verlander and Rick Porcello by a day. Manager Jim Leyland has not committed yet to doing the same with Doug Fister on Thursday, but he's clearly thinking about it depending on how the right-hander comes out of Saturday's start against the Rockies.
"The only thought process there was I don't know how he's going to come out of this," Leyland said before Saturday's game against the Rockies. "I'm trying to watch and protect him a little bit. But I could actually skip somebody and be OK if I wanted to do it that way."
If he does that, Max Scherzer would pitch Friday's series opener against the Pirates.
"Then," Leyland said, "I'd have to make some adjustments."
That part, he didn't get into. Coincidentally, while Crosby was pitching in Detroit on Friday night, top pitching prospect Jacob Turner gave up a lone earned run over at least six innings for the third straight start Friday night for Triple-A Toledo. He allowed four hits, walked two and struck out six at Norfolk to outduel Jamie Moyer. After going into Spring Training as arguably the favorite for the open spot in the Tigers' rotation that eventually went to Drew Smyly, Turner is making a case for a midseason promotion.
Monday's off-day is the last one the Tigers have before the All-Star break. They finish out with 20 games in 20 days, so they'll need a fifth starter for four turns. Smyly could fill that slot when he comes back from his DL stint, but that won't be until June 26 at the earliest, so they'll need somebody else for at least one start.
Benoit proving invaluable out of bullpen
DETROIT -- Tigers manager Jim Leyland looked down the line of his available relievers after Friday's 10-inning loss. Half of the six relievers -- Luis Marte, Thad Weber and Luke Putkonen -- entered the day with fewer than 15 Major League innings. Phil Coke and Duane Below were available, but both are lefties who pitched Friday night.
The last name might have been the biggest.
"Most likely, [Joaquin] Benoit [will be available] for one inning, hopefully to close," Leyland said before Saturday's 4-1 win against the Rockies.
And that's what Benoit did. With a four-run lead, the reliever entered in the ninth inning and gave up an unearned run on one hit. However, he rebounded to strike out two batters and seal the win for the Tigers.
After throwing two innings in Friday's game, Benoit's name wasn't expected to be on the list of available pitchers. Having him available was arguably a godsend for Leyland, who talks about Benoit in a way that almost sounds like he doesn't want to jinx him.
"I'll probably shoot myself in the foot," Leyland said, "but I think he's the best setup man in the league, that very rarely gets any credit. That's just my opinion."
Of course, the Tigers added Benoit before last season to be that kind of reliever, signing him to a three-year, $16.5 million contract. But after a rough start and strong finish last year as part of a solid late-inning relief corps, he's arguably the biggest piece holding the Tigers' bullpen together this season.
Benoit finished Saturday's win against Colorado an inning behind Coke for the most games pitched on the team with 31. His 43 strikeouts rank second among all American League relievers. His last 20 appearances have seen him throw 20 2/3 innings of three-run, 11-hit ball with four walks and 26 strikeouts.
Benoit has pitched in 10 of Detroit's 12 victories since May 19, including six in a row before Justin Verlander and Jose Valverde teamed up for Thursday's win over the Cubs.
Leyland said Benoit will get the day off Sunday as the Tigers look to win their third straight series for the first time in 2012.
Prince hitting left-handers with consistency
DETROIT -- Prince Fielder's two hits off Jeff Francis Friday night pushed his average against left-handed pitchers on the year to .301 (28-for-93). He has hit more balls to left field off southpaws than pulled to right.
It's a facet of his game that isn't exactly big, but it's buying him some hits, and not just against infield shifts such as Friday's ground ball to third base that ended up as a double to left field.
"He hits it all over. I'm surprised, really," manager Jim Leyland said. "He hits from line to line, if you want to know the truth, which is kind of shocking."
Fielder is a .261 career hitter against left-handed pitching, 35 points under his average against righties. But then, his .317 average entering Saturday was 32 points above his career mark.