TORONTO -- A week of starts at Triple-A Toledo was enough of a rehab assignment for Alex Avila, the Tigers decided. Manager Jim Leyland announced after Monday's 8-3 loss to the Blue Jays that they're activating him from the 15-day disabled list and returning him to his role as Detroit's regular catcher, starting Tuesday night against the Blue Jays.
As recently as Monday morning, it was unclear what, if anything, the Tigers might do with Avila once he becomes eligible to return from the DL. What they're not doing is waiting. Their reports on his hitting at Toledo are more encouraging now than when he began his rehab assignment a week ago.
"He's our catcher," Leyland said. "We need him to get going, and hopefully those 30-some at-bats get him going."
Avila will be activated from the DL prior to Tuesday's game and will start behind the plate to catch Doug Fister and hit against Chien-Ming Wang. Brayan Pena, who essentially became an everyday catcher in Avila's absence, will return to the second catcher role. Catching prospect Bryan Holaday was optioned back to Toledo to make room.
Avila's two-hit game on Sunday for the Mud Hens was his second in a row and third in five days. It improved his numbers to 8-for-33 on the rehab assignment (.242), including 8-for-25 in his last six games.
It's more the kind of hitting the Tigers wanted to see out of Avila when they sent him out on rehab. It wasn't simply about getting healthy, but also about hitting. The right forearm bruise that landed him on the 15-day disabled list two weeks ago cleared up within a week, giving him more time working with Mud Hens hitting coach Leon "Bull" Durham than needing treatment.
"He worked with Bull every day," Leyland said. "Sometimes you saw results in the game, sometimes you didn't, but you don't work with somebody one day and all of a sudden they turn into Ted Williams. You have to be repetitive with it, you have to stay with it and believe in it. They were seeing some results, and we were tickled with that, so we're going to get him back up here."
Pena held his own taking the bulk of the starts, batting 10-for-36 (.277) with a double and two RBIs since June 17 entering Monday. If there's any area where Avila's absence has been felt, it might be from the pitching staff, though no Tigers have cited it as making any difference in the recent downturn from Detroit's starters. Leyland doesn't believe it made a difference, but understood the impact that the comfort factor could make.