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Notes: Monroe getting job done

Notes: Monroe getting job done

DETROIT -- Craig Monroe can't always tell you the pitch he hits for a home run, such as his home run in Game 3 on Friday. He's not keeping a secret. He just gets so zoned in on the "see-ball, hit-ball" mentality that he doesn't judge the pitch. Let him check the video, and he can get back to you later.

"A lot of times when you're hitting, you don't think about it," he said. "You don't see it. You just see the ball and you hit it. I don't know. I really don't. I don't know if it was a fastball, cutter, slider, changeup. I just know that I saw it and I got the head out and took a good swing."

Ask him about a situational hit, however, and he knows exactly what he wanted to do. He came to the plate with a plan, and he executed. It might not be different than his approach with the home run, but it's focused. That's what makes him a solid option hitting second, not just the 28 home runs.

So when he got the hit-and-run signal on a 3-2 count with Curtis Granderson on first base in the first inning Friday, his memory was clear.

"To be honest with you, it's no different," Monroe said of his approach. "I'm still going up there trying to put the head of the bat on the ball. I feel like if I do that, then I can drive the ball to all fields. But I also understand the game, too, and I understand that the second baseman is going to be covering on that.

"It was a fastball away. It was a perfect situation for me not to do too much, and I allowed myself to take a good swing and just hit a ground ball over there and put us in a situation where we had first-and-third and a chance to score."

No home run, no RBI, but a huge play for the Tigers.

Monroe hit just .238 in 33 games batting second in the regular season, but his eight home runs were one shy of how many he had in 40 games batting in his usual seventh spot. More impressively, his strikeout rate was lower than in any other spot, and his 12 walks were way above any ratio he had elsewhere.

When Jim Leyland put Monroe and Marcus Thames in the second spot on days Placido Polanco played, he was using an old Tony La Russa ploy to put some pop high in the lineup. Sometimes, however, Monroe can act like a more traditional No. 2 hitter.

"When he puts you in there, yeah, it gives you a boost of confidence to know that he believes in you," Monroe said of Leyland. "And when you have somebody believe in you, it makes you capable of doing things you may not do on a day-to-day basis."

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As long as Polanco bats third in place of injured Sean Casey, it's possible Monroe will stay there. The only reason Leyland didn't bat him there in Game 2 was because he entered the series in a slump and he has traditionally struggled against Esteban Loaiza.

"We're growing up," Monroe said. "We're learning a lot. At the same time, this is all new to a lot of us, to watch us develop and really enjoy being in these moments, the way we are succeeding. You have to tip your hats to the guys who have really bought into our game plan and really focused on it."

Injury updates: Casey is on track to be available in a limited capacity Tuesday if this AL Championship Series heads back to Oakland for Game 6. Casey, who tore tissue around his left calf in Game 1 last Thursday, is walking normally and began jogging in a pool Tuesday, according to head athletic trainer Kevin Rand.

Meanwhile, fireballer Joel Zumaya threw during batting practice Saturday for the first time since being sidelined Wednesday with inflammation in his right wrist. Now pain-free, he threw a long-toss session from 120 feet. Before that, Leyland said he was unlikely to use Zumaya in Game 4, but kept his options open.

Gomez back in: The only lineup change from Game 3 to Game 4 was the return of Alexis Gomez at designated hitter. Leyland was impressed with Gomez's pinch-hit single Friday.

"Every once in a while, it's just a guy's time," Leyland said. "You don't know if it's true or not, but you have to take your shot. Maybe there's something going on. Maybe it's his time. It happens in the playoffs and World Series all the time."

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

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