DETROIT -- Return is finally in sight for Austin Jackson. First, however, he's going to take a Triple-A road trip.
The Tigers' center fielder will join Toledo on a rehab assignment beginning Monday. The Mud Hens just embarked on a nine-day road trip, so Jackson will have to hit the road to Rochester, N.Y.
Jackson is expected to serve as the designated hitter on Monday before stepping up his outfield work on Tuesday. He'll take an off-day with the Hens on Wednesday before they begin a four-game series at Syracuse the next night.
If things go as hoped, Jackson won't be there for the end of the series.
"There's a possibility he could join us in Minnesota," manager Jim Leyland said, referring to the Tigers' series against the Twins next weekend.
Jackson has been shelved since May 12 with a pulled left hamstring. What was initially hoped to be a short stay on the 15-day disabled list became a four-week absence when lingering soreness prevented Jackson from accelerating pain-free to full speed.
Tigers' middle relief a concern for Leyland
DETROIT -- The closer position has been a target for Tigers fans since last offseason, let alone since Jose Valverde's return. As manager Jim Leyland looks at his bullpen right now, however, he's more worried about the seventh inning than the ninth.
Simply put, Detroit doesn't have enough depth in its middle relief. It was a concern when Octavio Dotel went on the disabled list a month and a half ago, a concern when Al Alburquerque and Brayan Villarreal went to Triple-A Toledo to work out command issues, and it remains a concern now.
"I have to get an extra guy going in the bullpen," Leyland said. "You can't end up with a three-man bullpen. But our starters have been so good it's hard to get those guys enough work."
Leyland tried to fill Saturday's seventh inning with young right-hander Luke Putkonen protecting a 6-2 lead. He ended up stretching Phil Coke for four outs after a Jhonny Peralta error and a Ryan Raburn homer made it a 6-4 game.
Fellow young righty Jose Ortega had similar ups and downs before he was optioned to Toledo to make room for Sunday spot starter Jose Alvarez.
"There's still that little one area there where we've got to get a little better at," Leyland said.
The Tigers were short on relievers Sunday, having to call up Jose Alvarez for a spot start. They returned to full strength after the game by optioning Alvarez to Triple-A Toledo and recalling right-hander Evan Reed.
Reed pitched in two games for the Tigers last month in his first big league action, allowing a run on four hits over four innings. His lone scoring damage was a Nelson Cruz home run on May 16. The 27-year-old pitched 11 innings with two earned runs allowed on six hits since rejoining the Mud Hens. He walked eight and struck out 10.
Unless circumstances change, Smyly staying in 'pen
DETROIT -- The Tigers had Drew Smyly and Rick Porcello competing for a starting rotation spot in Spring Training. The team carried Smyly in the bullpen out of camp with the idea that he could be a spot starter if needed.
So with Anibal Sanchez shelved Sunday, why didn't Smyly make the start? The short answer is time. Enough of it has passed since Smyly was stretched out as a starter that the Tigers don't believe he could fill enough innings before tiring. The way he has been pitching, the risk of injury would be a concern, as well.
If the Tigers expected Sanchez to miss several starts, rather than just one, their choice with Smyly might be different. Under that scenario, the Tigers could send Smyly to Triple-A to stretch out his arm again before returning.
If the Tigers felt like Smyly was their only insurance starter, they might still send him out. But manager Jim Leyland is clearly hoping it doesn't come to that at any point this year.
"Smyly [in the bullpen] makes us the best team right now," Leyland said.
Hunter recalls being drafted 20 years ago
DETROIT -- The First-Year Player Draft is vastly different than it was when outfielder Torii Hunter was drafted 20 years ago. There was no MLB Network to analyze picks, the top players couldn't head to the New Jersey studios for interviews and most fans didn't know much about the players selected.
Hunter wasn't as prepared as this year's draftees when the Twins selected him in the first round and 20th overall in the 1993 Draft.
"[Former general manager Andy MacPhail] called me," Hunter said, "and I was like, 'Who? Minnesota Twins?'"
A bigger football fan than baseball, Hunter sat with his agent and family members around the house. After he was chosen, nearly all of the local television stations raced to his house in Pine Bluff, Ark., for an interview.
"All the TV stations, they have me in a Braves jersey, while I was drafted by the Twins," Hunter said while laughing. "I thought that was pretty cool, I'll never forget that. After I got drafted by the Twins, we started walking around malls, and different areas trying to look for a Twins hat."
While it wasn't long before he found his way up to the Majors with the Twins, all Hunter could find in the area were Cubs, Cardinals and Braves gear.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. Bobby Nightengale is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.