TORONTO -- Joaquin Benoit has never campaigned for the Tigers' closer job. Even when he said time and again that a team needed a set closer, he never said it should be him. That's not his style.
Even now, two weeks into his role as Tigers closer, it's not entirely clear it's a job he craves so much as the job he has earned. Yet on the field, he's not doing anything to discourage the current notion that he can close, a theory that the Tigers were finally led into testing out.
"I really just wanted to be a part of the [pitching] lineup," Benoit said of his younger aspirations. "I didn't pick a role. I mean, I was a starter at the beginning of my career, a middle reliever, then a setup man, and now I'm a closer. Who knows what's coming next?"
When asked if he's happy being a closer, Benoit cracked a smile.
"I'm not complaining about it," he said.
It's cruel irony that his ascension to the closer's job upon Jose Valverde's exit coincided with the sudden downturn of the Tigers' rotation. Benoit went from oft-used setup man to a closer in need of work. After 12 appearances in April and 11 in May, he pitched in just nine games in June, and just three over the final two weeks of the month.
That makes it easy to stay fresh health-wise, but tougher to stay polished pitching-wise. It also makes it tricky for the Tigers to develop a sense of trust in their closer.
With the July 31 Trade Deadline now four weeks away, they don't have much time to build it. How team officials see Benoit in late July will have a major impact on their trade talks.
If the Tigers decide they need to acquire a closer, they don't have nearly as many choices on the market as they do with setup men. The closers who could be traded won't be cheap to acquire, either, partly out of supply-and-demand, but partly out of talent.
That's not Benoit's department. He isn't really into plugging his role, for that matter. All he's doing is pitching. When asked about the adrenaline of closing, he shrugged.
"I mean, I haven't felt any changes," he said. "I'm waiting for that one."
Cabrera plays Wednesday, to sit out finale
TORONTO -- The scare Miguel Cabrera gave the Tigers with his back Tuesday night became a sigh of relief by Wednesday afternoon. He said he'd be ready to play in his usual spot at third base, and he was.
Cabrera went 0-for-4 with a walk and two strikeouts in the Tigers' 6-2 win, but he will sit out Thursday's finale.
Manager Jim Leyland was cautious about playing Cabrera on Wednesday, tentatively plugging hm into the lineup but waiting until he took the field for batting practice before finalizing his decision. His work on the field did nothing to change Leyland's mind.
Wednesday was the Tigers' sixth consecutive game on artificial turf, with one more coming up Thursday before the team leaves town. Though Cabrera wasn't sure how much of an impact the surface has had on his back, the Tigers are likely playing it safe by sitting the slugger for the finale.
Leyland said when this road trip began at Tampa Bay that he'd try to get most of his players at least one game off on the trip.
Despite surge, Infante staying put in lineup
TORONTO -- Omar Infante had hits in seven consecutive at-bats before striking out in his second at-bat on Tuesday. He hadn't been retired on a ball put in play since his second at-bat on Sunday in Tampa Bay and entered Wednesday's game against the Blue Jays on the kind of tear that marks his style of hitting.
"He's really making a good pass at the ball right now," manager Jim Leyland said. "He's not over-swinging. He's not under-swinging. He's not trying to do too much. He's seeing the ball good right now. That's obviously pretty big for us."
That said, Leyland still wants to see Infante doing that where he is in the lineup. He does not want to move him up in the batting order at this point.
"You always talk about, 'Well, hitting good like that, why don't you move him up?'" Leyland said. "Well, if you remember, we're supposed to be pretty good up top, obviously, and we always talked last year that we didn't get enough from the bottom of our lineup. So you want to keep somebody down there that's swinging good, that can generate some runs from the bottom of the lineup.
"It all sounds good, moving somebody up, but it's not necessarily the right thing to do. We want to stretch our lineup out. We think we're pretty good with [Austin] Jackson and [Torii] Hunter and [Miguel] Cabrera and [Prince] Fielder, the first four guys. We think that's pretty good."
Castellanos to start in Triple-A All-Star Game
TORONTO -- Nick Castellanos was a snub from the Futures Game, losing out in the fan vote for the final spot on the U.S. Team. The Toledo Mud Hens' sweet-swinging outfielder and Tigers top prospect was not overlooked in fan balloting for the Triple-A All-Star Game.
Castellanos, last year's Futures Game Most Valuable Player and one of the youngest players in the league at age 21, will join fellow Futures Game alumnus Billy Hamilton and Joey Terdoslavich in the starting outfield when the International League All-Stars face their counterparts from the Pacific Coast League in Reno, Nev., on Wednesday, July 17 -- the day after the MLB All-Star Game.
Jordan Lennerton, who will represent the Tigers in the Futures Game on Sunday, July 14, also made the IL All-Stars. The Mud Hens' first baseman was one of 17 reserves selected by league managers and officials.
Leyland finally comfortable with bullpen
TORONTO -- The sense of relief in manager Jim Leyland's voice was evident Tuesday night when he talked about his bullpen coming together and settling into roles. It was still there when he discussed it again Wednesday afternoon.
That bullpen order does not include any more multi-inning roles for guys like Al Alburquerque and Phil Coke. That experimenting seems to be over, at least for now.
Even with a right-handed hitter, Mark DeRosa, leading off the eighth inning Tuesday, Leyland did not want to extend Alburquerque after he pitched a hitless seventh.
"It seems like, for whatever reason, we've had some issues with guys going back out for the second inning, even to get an out," Leyland said. "So I'm pitching those guys, and however it plays out the next inning is however it plays out. And I think that benefits them from [not] sitting there, because that seemed to be a problem for a few of our guys. We're eliminating that."
Alburquerque was extended for two or three innings at a time early in the season. That worked out well in April, then became a problem in May, eventually leading Alburquerque out of whack and back to the Minor Leagues.
The numbers show the difference. Major League hitters are batting just .157 (8-for-51) against Alburquerque in his first 15 pitches of an outing. From pitches 16 to 30, batters are 6-for-22 (.273) off of him.
Coke actually has allowed a higher average (.282) in his first 15 pitches than his next 15 (.200), but his walk rate balloons.
So for now, the Tigers' two long relievers are Luke Putkonen and Darin Downs. Of course, the key to keeping the other guys generally at an inning apiece will be starters working deep into games, something they've generally lacked.
They're getting there.
"I feel pretty comfortable right now with our bullpen," Leyland said. "This is the most comfortable I've felt all year with the bullpen. I think we've finally got it to where it's very workable. I like it."
• The Tigers agreed to terms with 22nd-round Draft pick Daryl Norris, a right-handed pitcher from Mississippi State. He became the 31st of 41 Tigers Draft picks to sign.
• While Matt Tuiasosopo began a Minor League rehab assignment Wednesday at Toledo, batting cleanup in the Mud Hens' order, Leyland said they'll ideally get the right-handed hitting role player back Friday when he's eligible to return from the 15-day disabled list. However, Leyland said they also gave Tuiasosopo the option of staying with the Hens this weekend if he felt he needed more at-bats.
• Leyland gave every indication that Avisail Garcia will return to Toledo when Tuiasosopo is ready to come off the disabled list.
"To be honest with you, the sooner he gets down there, the better for him," said Leyland, who has said more than once that Garcia needs everyday playing time to develop.