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Avila sees aggressiveness at plate paying off

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DETROIT -- Jim Leyland made a point early in Spring Training: Alex Avila needed to be more aggressive at the plate. It might not get him to his 2011 form, but it would give him a chance to be better than last year.

It's early, but Tuesday's home run off Jays starter Brandon Morrow was an early reward for him, and an early sign of encouragement for the Tigers' manager.

"I like what I'm seeing," Leyland said Wednesday morning "He's turning the bat loose. It's got a loud sound. He's got some juice in his bat, and I'm liking what I'm seeing right now."

It's not a major difference statistically. Avila entered the day 5-for-22 overall with five strikeouts along with a pair of solo home runs. Tuesday's homer was his second hit on six occasions when he has put the first pitch in play.

The bigger difference, albeit a small sample size, is the percentage of first pitches Avila has tried to hit. He has swung at the first pitch in 42 percent of his at-bats entering Wednesday, by far the highest percentage of his career. By contrast, he swung at 29 percent of first pitches last year.

"He's letting it fly at the first strike," Leyland said. "That's what I've been looking for."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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