DETROIT -- Phil Coke continues to be bothered by the left groin strain that has sidelined him since last weekend. The question the Tigers faced Tuesday was whether he's ready to return. The question they could soon face is how long they can afford to wait.
His availability to pitch Tuesday hinged on a pregame throwing session. He played catch briefly in left field during batting practice, then went back into the clubhouse with head athletic trainer Kevin Rand.
With Coke out, the Tigers survived Monday with four big outs from Drew Smyly, two of them against Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. Smyly was available again Tuesday night, supporting the theory that his versatility has helped save the Tigers' bullpen more than once in the season's opening month.
Lefty Darin Downs also has been available to get outs against left-handed hitters. Still, it's difficult to see the Tigers getting through a long stretch short-handed.
Scherzer's curve keyed series-opener success
DETROIT -- For all the attention on Max Scherzer's 10 strikeouts over 7 1/3 innings in Monday's 4-3 win against the Twins, his bigger key to victory might have been holding Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau hitless. Scherzer's strikeouts were generally a mix of fastballs and changeups, but he credited another pitch for his success against Minnesota's dangerous duo.
"Honestly, it was my curveball," Scherzer said. "That's a pitch I've really been working on. I knew coming in that they have a lot of good left-handed hitters."
It's the pitch Scherzer throws the least in his arsenal, usually just a few times an outing. It's so infrequent that it often registers as a slow slider. On Monday, he said he threw about 10-12 curveballs after a tweak between starts gave him some confidence that it could be an effective third pitch against left-handed hitters.
"In my bullpen session, [pitching coach Jeff Jones] gave me a little tip to help improve my grip so that I can be more consistent with that pitch," he said. "It worked in the 'pen, so over the past couple days I've been throwing it. I thought this was going to be a good pitch for me.
"I think I threw about 10-12 curveballs, and they were pretty consistent. I don't think I had any strikeouts on it. I was able to throw it for a strike where it was competitive or it was just missing. So for me, that threw a whole wrinkle in there that they had to now respect for me to be able to throw that curveball. I feel like when I can do that, it gives me a third pitch for a lefty that allows my fastball and changeup to be effective."
Benoit's saves cover wide range of pitch counts
DETROIT -- Joaquin Benoit already had the longest save in Major League history since the save rule became standard in 1969, having pitched the last seven innings of a win for the Rangers in 2002. Now he has one of the shortest saves in Tigers' history.
Benoit's two-pitch save Monday night was the shortest by a Tiger in five years. Fernando Rodney entered and induced a first-pitch out to earn a save against the Mariners on July 3, 2008. Rodney owns the only one-pitch save the Tigers have had since 1998, which is as far back as records on pitch counts go on baseball-reference.
With Monday's save, the pitch counts on Benoit's 15 Major League saves range from two to 87. That might be the one category where Benoit has Mariano Rivera beat. Rivera's 617 career saves range from a pair of one-pitch saves to a 60-pitch outing.
Leyland recalls Elia's famous postgame rant
DETROIT -- For a manager who has had his share of sound bites and postgame news conferences crash the airwaves and dominate highlight shows -- his blow-up about umpiring in Boston last May can still be seen on MLB Network -- Jim Leyland can appreciate a good rant.
With Monday marking the 30th anniversary of arguably the most memorable postgame managerial tirade ever recorded, Lee Elia's rant on Cubs fans after a loss at Wrigley Field, Leyland didn't need his memory jogged to recall it.
"It's one of the greatest I've ever heard. It was unbelievable," Leyland said.
He doesn't mean he was glad to see it happen to Elia, especially the fallout after it. Nor did he suggest Cubs fans deserved the offense from the then-Cubs manager. For entertainment, though, it was unmatched for him.
It's one of the toughest things for a manager to endure. And yet, when a manager loses his cool like that, it's something every manager can understand on some level.
"I love Lee Elia," Leyland said. "I managed against him in the Minor Leagues. I've known him all my life. I love him to death. And he just obviously lost it. It was not a good thing for Lee to do, but I have to admit, as a spectator, I thought it was spectacular. And I don't mean that as an offense against Cubs fans."
Leyland had an up-close view of the reaction in Chicago when it happened, because he was the third-base coach for the crosstown White Sox at the time.
"I mean, I couldn't believe it when I first heard it," Leyland said. "But I can't lie and say I wasn't laughing my butt off, because I was. You try to avoid those at all costs if you can."
But sometimes, Leyland said, a manager gets agitated enough that they can't help it.
Leyland has never had anything on that level. He has yelled, screamed and implored reporters to write what they saw, as he said last year in Boston. Arguably his most famous blow-up was his on-field shouting match with Barry Bonds during Pirates Spring Training one year.
• Drew Smyly can't stop catching ceremonial first pitches. He was scheduled to catch University of Michigan basketball star Trey Burke on Tuesday night before Burke had to reschedule. Instead, he caught a first pitch from Mike Beebe, governor of Smyly's home state of Arkansas. Beebe was in town for a leadership conference.