SAN DIEGO -- Though postponed a day because of poor weather that washed out Tuesday's game as well, the Tigers will celebrate Jackie Robinson Day today by wearing No. 42 on the field. But their activities will begin well before first pitch, including a ceremony to honor the winners of their 18th annual Jackie Robinson Art, Essay and Poetry contest.
The Tigers have held the contest to encourage students to submit an original work of art, essay or poem honoring Robinson and his legacy. This year's winners: Amanda Auten of Britten Deerfield School and Jawan Davis of Denby High School for art; Ryan Chatterjee of Reuther Middle School and Joel Tedone of Riverview Community High School for essays; and Annie Gibbs of Reuther Middle School and Olivia Upham of Oxford High School for poetry.
The winners will join Jackie Robinson Foundation Alumni and Scholars from the University of Michigan for a pregame ceremony ahead of the 7:08 p.m. ET game against the Cleveland Indians. Tigers outfielders Rajai Davis, Torii Hunter and Austin Jackson will join them.
"Jackie Robinson means so much to this game," Hunter said. "Not just the game, but to people all over the country. He broke the color barrier, and he stayed strong through some adverse times. Had he been weak and quit and just said forget about it, where would we be -- not just in the game, but as a people?
"I think with him being strong and Americans getting a chance to know him and see his game and see the way he played the game, he opened a lot of eyes and changed a lot of mindsets. What he did, withstanding all that adversity, I think that's strength."
In addition, the Tigers will honor the winner of the Jackie Robinson Most Valuable Business Partner Award, established by Major League Baseball in 1998 to help cultivate partnerships with minority- and women-owned businesses. Brandon Bordeaux, chairman and COO of Caravan Facilities Management, will be presented with this year's award.
V-Mart an option to catch during AL play
SAN DIEGO -- The Tigers bid farewell to their early bout of Interleague Play by putting Victor Martinez behind the plate for the second time this week on Sunday. However, the return of the designated-hitter slot might not mean the end of Martinez's catching days.
"It definitely would be an option," manager Brad Ausmus said, "probably a little bit more [than it was before]."
It would not be a regular option. As a 35-year-old with a history of knee problems on a team with a vested interest in keeping his bat in the lineup, Martinez isn't going to be any more than an occasional catcher.
"Again, I don't want Victor behind home plate -- from an age and health standpoint -- on a regular basis," Ausmus said. "But I think, assuming everything goes well, it certainly is something I would consider. …
"There's not a game I'm looking at and saying, 'Hey, Victor should catch this game.' But it may arise where, down the road, I decide or the coaching staff and I decide that putting Victor back behind the plate for a day might help us."
It's enough of a consideration that Martinez will probably catch bullpen sessions on occasion in the meantime to keep his catching skills fresh.
The Tigers have five more regular-season games in National League parks, but none for another three months. They head to Arizona for three games July 21-23, and they have what is now an annual home-and-home four-game series against the Pirates, including Aug. 11-12 in Pittsburgh.
In the meantime, they have Alex Avila struggling to break out of a slow start at the plate. His eighth-inning single Saturday night ended an 0-for-9 slump in which he struck out eight times. He entered Sunday batting 3-for-23 on the season with 14 strikeouts in 28 plate appearances.
"He's scuffled a little bit in terms of making good contact," Ausmus said. "Again, though, it's been a choppy schedule. He sat out a few games on this trip, and it's tougher for a hitter to get into a rhythm [that way]. He's caught three games in the last [week] and had two complete off-days where he didn't even touch a ball or a bat."
Tigers move Verlander up to Thursday vs. Tribe
SAN DIEGO -- Tigers manager Brad Ausmus had been talking since the middle of Spring Training about shuffling his rotation to not have Drew Smyly and Rick Porcello pitch back to back. With Smyly rejoining the rotation Wednesday against Cleveland, Ausmus shuffled the rest of his pitching order, moving Justin Verlander up a day to pitch Thursday's series finale against the Indians and pushing Porcello back to Friday's opener against the Angels.
The move has several benefits, from pitting Detroit's ace against a division rival he has beaten regularly to allowing Verlander to get back into rhythm of four days' rest, which he prefers. It's the pitching order, however, which Ausmus cited.
"It was more about splitting up Porcello and Smyly," Ausmus said.
Both Verlander and Porcello had success against Cleveland last year. While Verlander went 3-1 with a 3.38 ERA in five starts against the Tribe, Porcello posted a 3-0 mark in four meetings, allowing just five earned runs on 17 hits over 24 2/3 innings.
Even so, this year's Indians lineup leans heavily toward left-handed batters and switch-hitters, which traditionally has been Porcello's weakness.
In theory, the righty-heavy Angels lineup should be friendlier for Porcello, but that lineup thrashed him twice last season, from a nine-run opening inning in Anaheim (April 20) to a five-run fifth inning at Comerica Park (June 25). Detroit's infield defense let him down in the first matchup, though, with a slew of ground ball and infield singles setting up Mike Trout's grand slam to knock Porcello out in the opening frame.
Focusing on opposite field pays off for Miggy
SAN DIEGO -- Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera has always taken batting practice with an all-fields approach, trying to slash line drives to the opposite field before pulling the ball with authority. On Saturday, however, he took it to the extreme, powering one pitch after another to right while following through on his swing with one hand on the bat.
On his first at-bat Saturday, that approach was evident. He didn't manage a hit, but his fly ball to right-center field carried to the warning track, allowing Ian Kinsler to tag up from second base and easily take third.
It was the first time in a full week that Cabrera had hit the ball to the opposite field with authority. His third-inning double his next time up was a ball he pulled into the left-field corner, but the all-fields awareness carried the rest of the evening.
"It was better," Cabrera said. "I want to use the whole field. I just had to make some adjustments to get a good at-bat."
Said manager Brad Ausmus: "I know he was working in BP on some stuff, and it definitely translated. His swing looked more Cabrera-esque."
Jackson handling lower spot in lineup
SAN DIEGO -- The first intentional walk to Miguel Cabrera this year preceded the latest clutch hit from Austin Jackson. But Tigers manager Brad Ausmus doesn't want to put any added pressure on his former leadoff hitter turned run producer.
"I just want Jackson to keep doing what he's doing," Ausmus said. "I'm not really concerned about where he's hitting. He looked like he did in Spring Training, very comfortable at the plate, very balanced."
For all the questions about protecting Cabrera in the lineup, his first intentional walk came in the Tigers' ninth game of the year. It came on a night when Victor Martinez wasn't in the starting lineup batting behind him. Jackson picked up the slack Saturday with a two-run ground-rule double for two critical insurance runs in the ninth inning.
Though Jackson entered Sunday's series finale against the Padres batting .314 (11-for-35), the double was his first hit this year with runners in scoring position. He had been 0-for-9 with a sacrifice fly and four strikeouts.