ANAHEIM -- The Tigers have watched opponents pitch around their MVP hitter, Miguel Cabrera, for the last few years. On Friday, they opted not to do the same with the Angels' version, Albert Pujols, and it arguably cost them.
In that case, Detroit manager Jim Leyland said, it was a sign of respect for Anibal Sanchez more than any disrespect for Pujols.
Sanchez was facing Pujols for the fourth time in the seventh inning with two outs and Luis Jimenez on third base. Leyland had left-hander Darin Downs warming up to face Josh Hamilton, who was on deck.
"I just felt like Sanchez had pitched well enough that he should be out there," Leyland said. "I could've walked Pujols and brought in the lefty for Hamilton, but I thought Sanchez is one of my horses and he deserved a shot to get him out. That's why I let him pitch to him, knowing that he'd probably try to make a real good pitch. He just didn't quite do it."
Pujols hit an RBI single to extend the Angels' lead to 3-0. Downs entered and struck out Hamilton to end the inning.
That isn't a move Leyland would second guess. He brought it up himself on Saturday morning, but moreso as an opportunity to express his confidence in Sanchez.
"I felt it was more important to show confidence in my starting pitcher, one of my horses," Leyland said. "Did it turn out to be the wrong decision? I don't think so, because I did it for the purpose that I did it for. And I don't think it probably had anything to do with whether we won or lost the game. But it was an option.
"I took the option to show my starter that's going to start for me every five days all year long some confidence."
Garcia successful in extended spring game
ANAHEIM -- Avisail Garcia, who began the season on the disabled list with a bruised right heel, returned to game action Saturday morning with five at-bats as the designated hitter in an extended spring game in Florida.
Garcia stole a base in the game, according to head athletic trainer Kevin Rand, so he felt comfortable running.
The Tigers' plan calls for Garcia to start in the outfield in extended spring games on Monday and Tuesday before the medical staff re-evaluates him. Assuming Garcia has no setbacks, it would not be a surprise for him to begin a Minor League rehab assignment next week, either staying in warm weather Florida with Class A Lakeland or heading north.
Garcia was a contender for a roster spot in Spring Training before the heel injury, though the Tigers seemed unlikely to carry him on the big league roster unless he would be getting regular at-bats. Though left fielder Andy Dirks has gotten off to a slow start, a healthy Garcia won't change the Tigers' outlook right away.
Jackson goes green with first two-steal game
ANAHEIM -- Austin Jackson is one of the few Tigers with a green light to steal a base at any time. Manager Jim Leyland reserves the right to put a stop sign on him, but rarely does. Thus, it seems odd that Friday marked just the second two-steal game of Jackson's career, and the first since his rookie season.
Call it an effort to get a sputtering Tigers offense going, or call it a flash of aggressiveness on the basepaths with baserunning consultant Jeff Cox in the crowd, but Jackson took advantage of Angels starter Tommy Hanson's struggles holding runners, and catcher Chris Iannetta's struggles throwing them out. Opponents are 11-for-11 stealing bases on Iannetta so far this season.
"We thought we had a shot, so we tried to take advantage of it," manager Jim Leyland said. "It worked out fine. To their credit, [Angels manager] Mike [Scioscia] called a pitchout on the one and he still beat it."
Jackson's first steal in the third inning came on a pitchout after a leadoff walk. It put Jackson in scoring position for Torii Hunter, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. Hanson opted not to intentionally walk Cabrera and instead retired the middle of the Tigers' lineup in order.
If Fielder's presence prompts opponents not to walk Cabrera, it could create more opportunities for Jackson to steal by removing the hesitation to leave first base open.
Jackson's last two-steal came on June 12, 2010, against the Pirates. Cabrera was still batting cleanup back then. Ryan Raburn hit third on that particular day. The Tigers had five two-steal games last year, three from Quintin Berry and two from Omar Infante.
Other Tigers with two-steal games in between Jackson's two-steal efforts: Brennan Boesch on Sept. 12, 2010, and Johnny Damon on June 27 of that same season.
Jackson experiences rare defensive glitches
ANAHEIM -- Austin Jackson's defensive credentials over his first three Major League seasons have made him an annual candidate for Gold Glove Award consideration. However, he has two uncharacteristic mixups in left-center field this month.
The latest came on Friday night, when Jackson and left fielder Matt Tuiasosopo both tracked a Peter Bourjos drive to the fence. Jackson gave way to Tuiasosopo, who was calling for the ball but stopped. Jackson didn't have enough time to recover, and the ball glanced off his glove as he made a last-second attempt.
"I think he probably had a bead on it," Leyland said, "and out of the corner of his eye he saw Tuiasosopo coming at him like a locomotive. All of a sudden, it was a little flinch."
Jackson and Andy Dirks had a similar play earlier this month. Under most circumstances, the center fielder has the priority on that play.