Notes: Pudge nudged to first

Tigers notes: Pudge nudged to first

BALTIMORE -- Jim Leyland leaned over Ivan Rodriguez's left shoulder and whispered into his ear. Rodriguez's eyes widened as he tilted his head to acknowledge the Tigers manager, and a broad smile crossed his face.

"Really?" asked Rodriguez.

"What, you think I'm (joking with) you?" replied Leyland.

Leyland has been talking about giving the Tigers catcher a shot at first base, and Tuesday was the day that, after 1,914 Major League games, Rodriguez took a position other than behind the plate.

"I'm not nervous because I know the game," Rodriguez said. "But it's going to be different, for sure. It's going to be fun."

With first baseman Chris Shelton struggling in a 2-for-12 slump with one homer in 12 games, and Dmitri Young's tender quadriceps not yet fit enough to play the field, Leyland opted for Rodriguez at first for the first of three games against Baltimore at Camden Yards.

"It's definitely beneficial to Pudge, as far as his legs and everything, but that's not the reason I'm doing it," Leyland said. "He's in good shape, takes good care of himself. He's our catcher - it's that simple. But with his athleticism, he'll be OK over there."

Teams have been talking about giving Rodriguez a break from the rigors of catching for years. The Texas Rangers briefly considered converting him into a second baseman to save his legs and prolong his career. But until Monday, Rodriguez hadn't played first base since Winter League ball in 1997.

"Doing this is kind of good because the manager, GMs and owners can see that I can play another position. .. My career can be longer because I can play other positions," Rodriguez said.

And other than the vantage point, there won't be any differences - except for the size of the crowd.

"The only difference is, back then that was winter ball. This is a big league stadium," he said. "It's the same base."

There was one wrinkle to slow Rodriguez's transition to his new assignment. He reached into his locker stall and picked out his first baseman's mitt, fighting to flex it to demonstrate it wasn't yet broken in.

"I'm going to ask for one from someone else," Rodriguez said. "I've got one, but I don't think it's ready."

Rodriguez looked like a veteran first baseman on his first play at his new position Tuesday. In the bottom of the first, he went to his left to spear a hard grounder by Baltimore's Jay Gibbons, tagging the base with his mitt to end the inning.

Better, not back: An examination in Baltimore on Monday revealed that Placido Polanco's sore back stems from a muscular problem and not any kind of orthopedic or spinal issues.

But that didn't stop Polanco from missing a fourth straight game Tuesday. Leyland said he wouldn't use Polanco until he was sure he could play pain-free.

Though Leyland had him in the original lineup, Polanco was replaced at second base by Omar Infante, who hit eighth. Third baseman Brandon Inge, who was slated to hit eighth, moved into the second spot vacated by Polanco.

"It feels better," Polanco said before Tuesday's game, "but not 100 percent. I just went into the cage to take some swings and it's a lot better."

Polanco was worried that there was some spinal problem that caused the nagging soreness, which has bothered him for several weeks. When he started experiencing trouble with simple daily tasks like getting out of bed or bending down, his concerns grew.

"I really thought it had to do with the bone," he said. "Now I know it's muscular, and that's easy to treat."

Forgotten man? Rookie reliever Jordan Tata has pitched only 14 innings this season, and three of them came Sunday in Minnesota. But that doesn't mean Leyland has lost any confidence in the right-hander.

"It's kind of a catch-22, but a good situation that he hasn't had to pitch a lot," Leyland said. "None of [the bullpen] has had to. No one's been overpitched, that's for sure, because ... our starters have done a good job."

The Tigers have had internal discussions about sending Tata back to the Minor Leagues to increase his workload, but he's still on the 25-man roster. Tata is 0-0 with a 3.86 ERA in seven appearances.

"We keep toying with it and talking about it," Leyland said. "We just can't decide what to do or when to do it, for sure."

Baltimore memories: Leyland has a connection with the Orioles. When he went to pre-Spring Training drills with Baltimore in Thomasville, Ga., in 1963, a future Hall of Famer suggested that managing might be a quicker path to the Majors than playing.

"Earl Weaver was the guy who told me to find another line of work," Leyland said. "He was right. I never got out of Double-A."

Leyland stayed the spring with the Orioles, even though he was unsigned to protect his amateur status. He went back to school, then the Tigers called in the fall, signing him to a contract and assigning him to Class A Cocoa in the Florida State League, where he began his professional career in 1964.

Toledo-bound: Outfielder Alexis Gomez, who was designated for assignment May 5 when Young came off the disabled list, cleared waivers Tuesday and was outrighted to Triple-A Toledo.

Coming up: Right-hander Justin Verlander (3-3, 3.68 ERA) battles Rodrigo Lopez (1-4, 6.75 ERA), the Orioles' Opening Day starter, Wednesday night in the middle of three games at Camden Yards.

Pete Kerzel is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.