DETROIT -- One of the most frequently played highlights when Prince Fielder signed with the Tigers a year and a half ago was the footage of a young Fielder hitting batting practice from a Tigers coach named Terry Francona.
As Francona sat in the visitors office at Comerica Park on Friday, he could vividly remember those sessions.
"I remember he didn't pick up the balls," Francona said. "I said, 'Hey, man. I don't care how far you hit them. You've got to pick up the balls.' We had a good laugh about that last spring. ... I remember just thinking that no 12-year-old should be able to hit a ball that far."
Fielder didn't dispute the accusation.
"I was terrible at picking those up, just like my youngest one is," Fielder said.
The great thing about hitting batting practice from Francona, Fielder said, was that he's left-handed. Perhaps it was the early seasoning that helped him handle left-handed pitching well in the big leagues.
Fielder joked that he hasn't grown much taller since then. Of course, a close look at the highlights show Francona had hair on his head back then, too.
Dotel to throw again next week after second opinion
DETROIT -- The Tigers bullpen is one step closer to normal with Phil Coke's return. The lone injured reliever remaining, Octavio Dotel, is another matter.
A second opinion on Dotel's injured right elbow Friday from renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews brought the same news as the original diagnosis. He has no structural damage in his elbow, and nothing requiring surgery.
However, he still has some issues in his elbow, and thus can't throw a ball. He asked for the second opinion following a mound session earlier this week in Lakeland, Fla., while the Tigers were on the road.
"He stretched out throwing long when he was throwing his bullpen the other day," Tigers athletic trainer Kevin Rand said, "and he just didn't quite have it yet. He just wanted to have a second look to make sure there was nothing we'd have been missing. … He threw fine. He didn't have any pain or anything. He just wasn't happy with the results at that point."
Dotel is on a medicine program that will keep him sidelined for six days before he can try throwing again next week.
Dotel, who turns 40 years old this fall, has been sidelined for three weeks and appears at least a couple weeks away from a return, given the process of stretching out his arm and giving him time against live hitters again.
Leyland mulling Smyly's role upon Coke's return
DETROIT -- Phil Coke's return from the disabled list Saturday brought the Tigers back to three left-handed relievers in their bullpen. With the lineup of left-handed hitters they face in the coming weeks, that should be a blessing, and manager Jim Leyland isn't complaining.
Still, the question of best utilizing those lefties, especially the youngest one, is something Leyland anticipates will be a challenge.
"We really have to get a situation ironed out as far as [Drew] Smyly is concerned," Leyland said. "He's doing a fantastic job, obviously. If you can have two of those lefties available each night, it's a good thing, but I also want him to pitch. So it's a little tricky."
Smyly made the Opening Day roster as a long reliever after spending Spring Training in competition for a rotation spot. He saw some lefty specialist situations early on while the Tigers had a closer-by-committee setup, then saw more of those over the past week with Coke on the DL.
Add it up, and Smyly has 6 2/3 shutout innings on two hits with six strikeouts over his last five appearances. Darin Downs is holding his own as well, tossing seven innings of two-ball with eight hits and eight strikeouts over his last five appearances.
Leyland values that versatility a lot, but he also wants to get Smyly a steady diet of innings. If the Tigers needed a spot starter for some reason right now, it's questionable whether Smyly would have the innings to slot right in.
"He's valuable late because he can get guys out late, as well as in big situations. He's real good at it," Leyland said. "But you want to get him innings pitching him long. So if you use him in the late situation, then you can't bring him back the next day to pitch long. So it's a tricky scenario."
After solid April, Peralta on a tear in May
DETROIT -- Just as Jhonny Peralta is notorious for slow starts in April, his career splits in May show a big turnaround in May. His month so far, though, is less like a turnaround than a tear.
After Peralta's surprisingly strong April, batting .292 (28-for-96) with two homers and 12 RBIs, he entered Saturday batting 12-for-28 in May. Add in three walks, and he has reached base safely in nearly half of his plate appearances so far this month. He's 14-for-36 during a nine-game hitting streak that dates back to April 29.
The irony of it is that he admittedly hates cold weather and doesn't usually play well in it. He hit through the April freeze, but the warmup with his bat has been much more sudden than the warming of the weather.
"I think my body's kind of used to it now," Peralta said. "I don't know how to explain it, but it's been good."
Manager Jim Leyland said Peralta has been more of an overall hitter this year, rather than pulling everything.
"I think he's using the whole field a little bit better than he did last year," Leyland said. "He's not as pull-happy, although he is a pull hitter. He's getting some hits to right field."
That said, he pulled two doubles to left on Friday night against Indians starter Corey Kluber.
"I think I've been handling the inside pitch better than in other years," Peralta said.
Avila takes advantage of green light on 3-0 pitch
DETROIT -- At some point in this Tigers homestand, Alex Avila will have his 1500th plate appearance in the big leagues. Until Friday, he had put a 3-0 pitch in play in just two of those. The first was an RBI double in 2011. The second was a sacrifice fly last year.
Then with two runners on base on Friday, after the Indians' Corey Kluber spent his first three pitches trying to get Avila to chase pitches off the plate, Avila knew he was going to get a pitch he could hit and jumped it for a two-run double.
"Obviously in that situation, you're going to green-light him," manager Jim Leyland said. "He was selective and he got a good pitch to hit, and he did what you're supposed to do with it, pull it. You're not supposed to hit a 3-0 pitch in most cases to left field. You're supposed to look for something you can turn on, and he turned on it and hit it good.
"He's swung better the last few days. He hit the big home run in Houston. He swung the bat extremely well [Thursday], didn't get anything to show for it really. So he's swinging better."
Avila guessed he has probably swung at five 3-0 pitches in his career. Research on baseball-reference.com says his guess was exactly right -- five swings out of 94 3-0 counts.
The criteria for swinging begins with a green light. From there, Avila said, he's looking for not just a strike, but a really good strike.
"Belt-high middle," Avila said, "something you can hit hard."
Lack of batting practices not affecting Tigers hitters
DETROIT -- The combination of bad weather and travel have limited the chances for the Tigers to take pregame batting practice. It has not shown in the concentration level manager Jim Leyland has seen in his hitters.
"I think we've had the best concentrated at-bats for the last seven or eight days that I've seen us have in a long time here," Leyland said, "and I'm including last year. I'm not saying we have never done it in the past here, because we have. I'm saying that for six, seven days, I'll tell you what, these guys have been grinding out their at-bats as good as you can ask them to do it. And I told them that last night."
That includes the two losses to the Nationals. Leyland liked the at-bats they put up against Jordan Zimmermann on Wednesday.
"They've really been in a stretch where they're really grinding out their at-bats and not giving at-bats away," Leyland said. "That's precious."
• Triple-A Toledo infielder Danny Worth is about 10 days away from a return from his right heel bruise, Kevin Rand said. Worth has resumed limited baseball activity, taking grounders in the infield, and is set to begin a running program. He began taking batting practice on Thursday, according to the Toledo Blade.