DETROIT -- Andy Dirks is finally out of his walking boot and although he's not yet ready to go full speed, the outfielder has been cleared to begin "light" baseball-related activities, head athletic trainer Kevin Rand said Saturday.
"The next step for him is he's starting to do weight-bearing activities, where he's able to initiate some baseball activities," Rand said. "Hitting off a tee, hitting soft toss, playing catch [and] we're doing the beginning of his running-type progression.
"He was able to do about 90 percent of what he needed to do when he went into [the walking boot] coming out of Chicago in the middle of June. So we're trying to pick up that last 10 percent."
Dirks, who has been sidelined since May 31 with Achilles tendinitis in his right foot, will receive one more treatment in Detroit on Sunday and then be sent down to Lakeland, Fla.
"He receives one more treatment here [Sunday] and then he's going to go down to [Class A] Lakeland, and he's going to work on the rehab down in Lakeland until he's ready to go out on a rehab assignment," Rand said.
There's still no timetable for Dirks' return and Tigers manager Jim Leyland reiterated that Dirks isn't close.
"He still has to go through a bunch of baseball stuff before he's ready to come up here," Leyland said. "That's a ways off."
Reliever and strikeout-specialist Al Alburquerque, however, is close. The 26-year-old is waiting to be cleared by team doctors to begin throwing live batting practice, Rand said. Once that's cleared, a rehab assignment isn't far off.
"What they generally do is they throw live BP two or three times and then the next step is obviously throw to hitters in a game situation," Rand said.
Leyland pleased with Tigers' offensive surge
DETROIT -- The Tigers began a five-game stretch against left-handers on Wednesday with an 8-13 record against them on the season and an overall record three games below .500. Now, through their first three games against the southpaws, they're undefeated and at the break-even mark at 42-42 on the season for the first time since May 15.
Manager Jim Leyland isn't dwelling on the .500 record -- he said the only place that will take Detroit is home come October -- but it's enough to make the skipper admit he's happy with how the team's swinging the bat.
"I am [happy]," he said on Saturday. "We've got some big hits against the lefties. Miguel [Cabrera] did, Prince [Fielder] did and Delmon Young did. And that's what we've needed. So hopefully [Ryan] Raburn, [Jhonny] Peralta, maybe they can do something these next couple games against the lefties."
Young, Raburn and Peralta were the three guys Leyland called out prior to Thursday's game. To win, he said, the team needed more production from the trio, especially against left-handers.
It seems at least Young is responding, as he hit home runs in back-to-back games entering Saturday, including the go-ahead blast in the sixth inning of Friday's 4-2 win.
It hasn't been the easiest season for Young, to put it lightly, but he is showing promise. The outfielder/designated hitter is hitting .325 (13-for-40) over his past 10 games with three homers and eight RBIs.
"He's better," Leyland said. "He's been a proven run producer .. Not a great run producer, but a good run producer. That's big for us when you got somebody coming through behind the two big guys. That's pretty important."
Young hit .268 with eight homers and 34 RBIs through 76 games. It's a far cry from the 32 RBIs through 40 games after being traded to Detroit last year, but the team hopes his recent success is a sign of its No. 5 hitter getting hot.
Valverde having trouble during closing time
DETROIT -- Until Saturday, it appeared the Tigers could breathe easy again in the ninth inning, as closer Jose Valverde had seemingly put his early season struggles behind him.
Valverde entered the ninth inning of Friday's 4-2 win against the Royals and pitched a perfect 1-2-3 inning to notch his 16th save of the 2012 campaign. He needed only 11 pitches to force a flyout, groundout and a game-ending strikeout.
Valverde had strung together six appearances and six scoreless innings since his return from a right wrist sprain on June 19. However, he reverted to his early-season self in Saturday's 8-7 win.
The 34-year-old closer allowed three runs on two hits and two walks, as he nearly surrendered the Tigers' four-run lead in the ninth.
"Sometimes, when it's not a save situation, his concentration's not where it's supposed to be," manager Jim Leyland said after his team escaped with a second straight win in the series. "I don't know if that was the case or not, but he walked the first on guy on four pitches. That's not usually a good sign. You're not comfortable at that point. You know you're in for a tough inning."
Valverde's ERA in non-save situations rose from 4.20 to 5.63. In 2011, when Valverde went a perfect 49-for-49 in saves opportunities, his ERA in non-save situations actually sat at 5.79 -- as opposed to 0.55 in save chances.
For the season, the closer entered Saturday with a 3.44 ERA, but it jumped up to 4.11 after the rough outing. Valverde is 3-2 on the year and his 16 saves ranked eighth in the America League entering Saturday's action. He has three blown saves on the year, the last on June 2.
Center fielder Austin Jackson extended his hitting streak to a career-high 14 games with a leadoff single on Saturday against the Royals' Bruce Chen. The streak dates to June 24, in the series finale against the Pirates. Jackson hit .400 (22-for-55) with two doubles, three triples, two home runs, seven RBIs and 17 runs scored over the first 13 games of the streak.
Reliever Daniel Schlereth is continuing to make progress in his recovery from left shoulder tendinitis. Schlereth was last reported to be throwing from 120 feet. Rand said Schlereth has progressed to throwing from 150 feet and is throwing harder from 60 feet, but not yet off a mound. The trainer was scheduled to get an update from Schlereth on Saturday and it will then be determined if he can begin a mound progression.
Anthony Odoardi is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.