DET@NYM: Downs pitches out of a jam in the fifth

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- A couple of high-stress situations gave Tigers manager Jim Leyland the chance to see some things he liked from his competing relievers on Sunday afternoon.

After two batters reached base with two outs in the fifth inning, starter Doug Fister gave way to left-hander Darin Downs with the Mets' No. 3 hitter Ike Davis at the plate. Downs got Davis to fly out to center, preserving Fister's line and giving Leyland a good look at the southpaw.

"That doesn't happen very often," Leyland said. "It worked out perfect today, because Doug was right about at the pitch count where we wanted him and it gave us the chance to see Downsie against a good left-hander with a couple guys on base."

Downs' one-third of an inning was followed by Al Alburquerque, who now has had back-to-back quality appearances after being roughed up on Thursday against the Astros. He gave up a leadoff double in the sixth, but struck out the next three hitters.

"I thought he threw the ball outstanding and he got sliders in the areas he wanted to," Leyland said. "He did terrific today."

Alburquerque and Downs are both top contenders to break camp in the Tigers' bullpen, which really only has three spots accounted for (Joaquin Benoit, Octavio Dotel and Phil Coke). Alburquerque, for one, has been a significant factor at the big league level, but also struggled at times this spring.

"My confidence is really good," Alburquerque said. "I know when I throw strikes, I can pitch."

Jose Alvarez gave up two runs on four hits in 1 2/3 innings and Luis Marte pitched a scoreless 1 1/3 frames in relief.

'Slow starter' Fister sharper despite walks

DET@NYM: Fister hurls 4 2/3 innings of two-run ball

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Doug Fister battled some command issues in his next-to-last start of Spring Training, but only allowed two runs in 4 2/3 innings thanks to some timely defense and four strikeouts to counter his four walks.

It was a breezy Sunday at Tradition Field, but Fister managed to keep the ball on the ground for the most part, inducing two 6-4-3 double plays to quell a couple of Mets rallies. After retiring the first two hitters of the fifth inning, he walked Kirk Nieuwenhuis and gave up a single to Justin Turner before taking his leave.

He was relieved by Darin Downs, who got Ike Davis to fly out to center field to end the threat. Fister threw 88 pitches total, 48 for strikes.

"He's still having a little bit of command issues with his fastball, but overall he threw well," said catcher Alex Avila, who also caught Fister's last outing and said the right-hander looked sharper on Sunday. "His stuff was good. It's just a matter of him getting his mechanics down and being able to repeat them."

After the outing, Fister now owns a Spring Training ERA of 6.52, over the course of 19 1/3 innings in six appearances. Avila said the last pitch Fister is continuing to work on perfecting is the sinker, particularly inside to left-handers.

"He's always been a bit of a slow starter, at least the last 2 1/2 years or so that I've caught him," Avila said. "But he's on the right track and it looks like he's going to peak at the right time."

Knee swelling down, Dirks back in Detroit lineup

TB@DET: Dirks leaves game with knee contusion

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Outfielder Andy Dirks returned to the Tigers' lineup on Sunday for the first time since Tuesday, when he crashed into the outfield wall and bruised his right knee.

Dirks was slotted into the lineup against the Mets in Port St. Lucie, and he intended to see how he felt during warmups and batting practice before he got the official go-ahead, but manager Jim Leyland said Dirks came out of it all OK.

"It's a Catch-22 because you've got to make sure he's getting some at-bats, but you don't want to do anything stupid," Leyland said. "You always go on the safe side, but he's ready. If he's not, he'd tell me."

Both Leyland and Dirks said it was a matter of getting the swelling down in his knee. And for now, Dirks said, it's the starting and stopping that will be a true test.

"Probably cutting -- slowing down and stopping," Dirks said of what would be most challenging. "It was just getting the fluid out of there."

Expected to be the Tigers' primary left fielder this season, Dirks is hitting .289 with a home run and three RBIs in 14 games this spring.

Worth noting

• Avisail Garcia did not make the two-day trip with the Tigers (they'll stay overnight before heading to Jupiter, Fla., on Monday) and Leyland did not expect the banged-up outfielder to be ready to play on Tuesday, either.

"I'd probably be taking away at-bats from someone else to be playing him this late," Leyland said. "I don't really know how that's gonna play out. If we make that decision that he can still be ready, then I'd get him some at-bats, because we have decisions to make. Without saying anything definite, I would lean toward [him] probably not going to start the season with us."

• Reliever Bruce Rondon's next two outings will be on back-to-back days.

• With Rule 5 Draft pick Jeff Kobernus heading back to the Nationals, it appears that Matt Tuiasosopo is more likely to emerge as a possible additional bench piece. Leyland said he feels comfortable with Tuiasosopo either at third or first base, and doubts he'd ever play him in the middle infield.

"What I've seen so far has been hot and cold," Leyland said of Tuiasosopo. "Cold early and hot lately. I didn't really know what to expect. He's hit some balls that had a loud sound, and swung and missed at some balls. Overall, he's done a nice job."

• Conditions at Tradition Field in Port St. Lucie were blustery on Sunday, with winds blowing out at about 35 mph.

When asked what he'd like to see from starting pitcher Doug Fister, Leyland joked: "Today, I'd like to see a little less wind."

Leyland added that sometimes with such conditions, it can diminish what a manager takes away from a game.

"It diminishes what the outcome might be for anybody, their pitcher or our pitcher," Leyland said. "Or hitters."