Notes: Slaught aims to refocus Shelton

Notes: Slaught aims to refocus Shelton

CHICAGO -- Tigers hitters don't need Don Slaught when they're batting well as much as when they're not.

Slaught has spent plenty of time in the batting cages with Chris Shelton. He has worked to get the first baseman mentally refocused. But sometimes, the easiest way to help a player out is to remind him that everyone has gone through it, and most have had it worse. Slaught talked to Shelton about a 2-for-26 skid. Lloyd McClendon talked about an 0-for-23 stretch he endured.

By contrast, Shelton merely ended an 0-for-13 slump Thursday, though he entered Friday at 7-for-53 in his last 15 games.

"Sometimes it's just walking up there [to the plate] and not caring," Slaught said. "When you try do a complicated task and think too hard, [it's tough]."

Most of Slaught's work with slumping hitters is more mental than physical. Just as he tries to repeat the tasks that get a hitter on focus to do well, he'll change things up when they're slumping. In Shelton's case, his hot start meant they'd been doing many of the same strategies since Spring Training. Mechanically, there's very little to fix at all, one reason it's been so easy for the Tigers to expect Shelton to hit again.

"Oh yeah, he's got a good swing, no question about it," Slaught said. "There's things that take him out of his game. You don't get locked in throughout the year."

Thursday was an encouraging day for Slaught. Shelton went 1-for-2 in the series finale against the Devil Rays with a double, two walks and two runs scored. He doubled again in his first at-bat Friday against the Cubs, poking an opposite-field line drive off the right-field wall at Wrigley Field.

Pudge leaves with leg cramps: It might be a sign of how accustomed Ivan Rodriguez has grown to playing in Detroit, that the hot, humid day in Chicago affected him. He left Friday's game after eight innings with leg cramps.

Rodriguez was noticeably hurting while moving out from behind home plate in the eighth inning. He was lifted in the top of the ninth for pinch-hitter Vance Wilson, who stayed in the game to catch Todd Jones in the bottom half of the inning.

"I didn't drink enough water," Rodriguez said. "It was very hot out there."

Rodriguez spent the first 13 seasons of his career playing for teams in hot-weather cities -- 12 with the Texas Rangers and one with the Florida Marlins. He's in his third season with the Tigers.

Thames again in left: Craig Monroe's still tender right ankle and Marcus Thames' still hot right-handed bat left manager Jim Leyland with another day to rest Monroe. He was available for late-inning duty.

"If I have to double-switch and use him, I'm going to do it," Leyland said. "If I can give him another day, I'm going to do it."

Monroe has not played in the field since crashing into the outfield fence against the White Sox across town last Wednesday. He started twice at designated hitter against the Devil Rays. He's expected to start at some point this series, though Thames' fifth homer in his last 15 games Friday might well earn him another start.

Hit-and-run: The Tigers headed back into Interleague Play looking more like a National League team than they did when they faced the Reds a month ago. Despite going four games without a homer for the first time this season, Detroit took three out of four against the Devil Rays, scoring 18 runs in the process. At one point, Detroit executed four hit-and-run plays without a missed sign.

"I was real happy," Leyland said. "We had a lot of hit-and-runs. We just played a little different style. I think it's what we have to do. We're getting a little better at it. We still have a long way to go."

It might be even longer this weekend if the wind keeps blowing out at Wrigley Field like it did Friday.

"You look at the negatives on both sides," Leyland said. "The pitchers look at it, and the hitters think they should lift the ball."

Still his kind of town: Curtis Granderson was back in his hometown for the second time in as many weeks Friday, but it's a different side of town than where he grew up. Friday was the first time he had ever stepped onto the grass at Wrigley Field, a ballpark he never even visited until he was a sophomore at the University of Illinois-Chicago because it was so hard to get tickets.

Tickets still aren't easy to come by, but he's managing. He's keeping a running tab of friends and family with tickets this weekend. The count was 21 on Friday, and it's expected to be closer to 30 this weekend.

Coming up: Justin Verlander gets his shot at pitching in the Friendly Confines on Saturday afternoon with yet another battle of rookies in a 4:05 p.m. ET start. Carlos Marmol, who has given up one run in two starts for the Cubs, will oppose Verlander.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.