CLEVELAND -- The Tigers' first four-game series sweep here in 25 years was supposed to answer questions about their readiness for October. Instead, they left town with one big question mark behind the plate.
Alex Avila was taken to a local hospital and tested for a possible concussion after he complained of symptoms during Thursday's win over the Indians at Progressive Field. While the Tigers traveled to New York for their weekend series against the Yankees, Avila was set to return to Detroit, where he'll be re-evaluated.
The tests were a precautionary measure, the team emphasized, but the level of concern throughout the Tigers clubhouse was serious.
"I'm actually pretty concerned," starting pitcher Max Scherzer said. "You see how many times he's getting just worn out in the face mask. You just wonder how many times those add up. So you really wish him the best."
Avila took a foul tip behind the plate in the fourth inning and received a visit from manager Jim Leyland and Tigers head athletic trainer Kevin Rand after home-plate umpire Ron Kulpa noticed bleeding around his ear. An initial exam, Leyland said, suggested the bleeding was outside the ear, rather than inside.
"One of the questions I asked him was, 'Is your vision and everything OK? Are you light-headed?' And he was fine," Leyland said. "But when he came into the dugout, evidently he went down underneath. And when Kevin was checking him out, he told him he was nauseous and light-headed.
"When you hear that kind of information, you take guys out. You don't mess around with that."
Brayan Pena, who caught all 14 innings of Wednesday night's marathon victory, replaced Avila behind the plate for the bottom of the fifth.
It's the second time in as many years Avila has left a game in Cleveland with concussion symptoms. The Tigers were here last September when Avila collided with first baseman Prince Fielder in front of the Tigers dugout chasing a pop fly. Avila had similar symptoms and missed four games.
As Scherzer noted, Avila is known for taking an abundance of foul tips off of his head and body. Leyland has said more than once that he takes more than any catcher he has seen.
"This isn't the first time I've been concerned about it," Leyland said, "but normally … I mean, when I was out there talking to him, he said he was fine and vision was good. But evidently he got nausea and that. I don't want to predict anything, but that's usually not a good sign."
Bonderman aiming to provide long-relief contributions
CLEVELAND -- The last time Jeremy Bonderman earned a win in a Tigers uniform, he was a starter wrapping up his Detroit tenure. He threw eight innings of three-hit ball on Sept. 8, 2010 against a White Sox lineup that included Juan Pierre, Omar Vizquel (who homered off of him for the lone run), Manny Ramirez, Mark Teahen and Andruw Jones He didn't survive the sixth inning in any of his four starts after that, and the Tigers -- who were 13 games out in the division race when Bonderman picked up that win -- opted not to offer him a Major League contract.
That's the last time the Tigers went down the stretch without a division race. The way they're rolling now, you have to wonder if they'll have a race come September. Bonderman's return Wednesday night, with three innings of one-hit ball in a 14-inning victory, helped stretch Detroit's lead to six games.
"These guys have done all the work," Bonderman said after earning his first Tigers win in nearly three full years. "I'm just trying to fit in, see if I can contribute in any way to get this team back to the playoffs."
The Tigers signed Bonderman in mid-July and called him up Monday to see if he could add some experience in a long relief role. It wasn't simply sentimentality about giving a former player another chance. Both Bonderman and the Tigers are treating it as a pitcher trying to fit a role.
That's why, when asked if it seemed odd when his Tigers return began with an at-bat against former teammate Ryan Raburn, who just signed a two-year contract extension in Cleveland, Bonderman shrugged it off.
"It doesn't seem that weird. It's baseball," Bonderman said. "I mean, it's fun to be back and be around all the guys and be back and part of this organization. I'm comfortable here. I know a lot of people. It definitely makes it a lot easier to come in and fit in than probably go to other places. It was just fun, honestly, to get an opportunity to come in and pitch and do my part."
It wasn't just experience on display from him. Bonderman, pitching in a relief role without the need to pace himself, threw stuff that looked like his younger form. The nasty, biting slider that was his best pitch for years in Detroit is still there, and Bonderman got four swings and misses out of the nine that he threw Wednesday, according to brooksbaseball.net.
Meanwhile, the fastball that had steadily dropped over the years in Detroit had its old punch. Bonderman's four-seam fastball averaged 93 mph, topping out at just under 95. He threw six fastballs at 94, including back-to-back pitches to Michael Brantley in his third and final inning.
"The only thing different about pitching in the bullpen is you don't have to reserve anything. You can just let it go," Bonderman said. "That's one thing I kind of like. You don't have to worry about saving anything for seven or eight innings. You can just go out there and let it fly and attack guys."
If he can let it go like that, that stuff will play.
Iglesias sits with bruised toe on left foot
CLEVELAND -- Add Jose Iglesias to the list of injured Tigers middle infielders. The new everyday shortstop was out of the lineup Thursday for the first time since joining the team Friday, thanks to a bruised toe on his left foot.
Iglesias does not expect the injury, which he said he sustained after Michael Brantley spiked him on an attempted steal of second base, to be serious.
"I'll be fine tomorrow," Iglesias said.
Iglesias was originally in the starting lineup before being scratched, Ramon Santiago, who originally had the night off after playing all 14 innings Wednesday night, went back into the lineup at shortstop.
Iglesias left Wednesday's game in the eighth inning, four innings after the slide that got him. However, his exit was more a matter of getting Andy Dirks into the game for offense against Indians starter Danny Salazar, about whom manager Jim Leyland was still raving Thursday.
The Tigers have been dealing with the absence of second baseman Omar Infante for more than a month now. He started at second base for Triple-A Toledo on Thursday night as part of his Minor League rehab assignment, going 1-for-3 with a single and playing six innings at second.
Leyland wary of Cabrera's play at third base
CLEVELAND -- Miguel Cabrera takes a lot of pride in his defense. When Jim Leyland moved him from first to third base before last season, Leyland assured that he wouldn't be taking Cabrera out late in games for defensive purposes.
What's going on now is a different situation. This isn't the fully healthy, defensively mobile Cabrera. And against an Indians team that has clearly shown an inclination to take advantage of that, Leyland is wary.
Cabrera is healthy enough to hit, as his go-ahead home run in the eighth inning showed Wednesday night. He's certainly healthy enough to trot. Running, though, is still an issue.
As soon as Cabrera's go-ahead homer had cleared the fence Wednesday night, Leyland was getting his defensive moves in place, including Don Kelly shifting in from the outfield to replace Cabrera at third. It wasn't about the risk of re-injury, at least not primarily. It was about the risk of a rally.
"My star came out of the game because we all felt that it was the best to have our better defense in there, the way he's been feeling," Leyland said. "The reason I took him out is the same reason I took him out last night, because he's not 100 percent by any means."
Leyland said he has talked with Cabrera about this so he knows what's going on. The fact that Cabrera mentions winning first and foremost when he talks after games these days suggests he's on board.
Cabrera said after the game that he feels OK. He did not aggravate something during the game that would have forced him to leave.
Tigers' Russell inducted into scouts Hall of Fame
CLEVELAND -- Mike Russell has scouted for four World Series teams, signed seven Major League players and provided the background work that led to franchise-changing trades such as the Miguel Cabrera deal to Detroit. In a profession that doesn't get a lot of honors, Russell is near the top.
On Thursday, Russell received some long-overdue recognition for his work. The Tigers' scout became the ninth inductee into the Professional Baseball Scouts Hall of Fame during ceremonies in Fort Myers, Fla.
Russell was one of the first scouts Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski brought over from his former staff in Florida when he changed jobs in 2002. Since then, he has become a trusted voice on the Tigers' scouting staff, providing input not only on National League East teams and their players but also scouting the Tigers' own prospects and evaluating their readiness for the big leagues.
"Mike Russell is well deserving of this honor and it's a tribute to his hard work, dedication and outstanding contributions to the game," Dombrowski said in a statement. "The Tigers organization salutes his induction."
It's the latest step in a career that has spanned a quarter-century. Russell made the jump from a Division II championship coaching staff at Troy State University to the scouting world as an area supervisor with the Giants in 1987. Except for a one-year stint recruiting at Tennessee, Russell has been scouting ever since.
Russell's ties with Dombrowski began with the Marlins as a special assignment scout in 1996, the year before they became the quickest expansion team ever to win a World Series. He progressed from there to the scouting staff to the inner circle of Dombrowski's advisors.