DETROIT -- Andy Dirks says his sore right knee has felt better the last couple of days than it has in the last month since he bruised it running into the left-field fence at Joker Marchant Stadium in Spring Training. That would raise optimism that he'll be able to return to the starting lineup Monday night against the Twins.
He was available Saturday and Sunday, manager Jim Leyland said, but that doesn't mean he's healthy. He wasn't needed in Sunday's starting lineup because the Braves started left-hander Mike Minor.
"He's available, but not 100 percent," Leyland said Sunday.
Leyland doesn't believe Dirks has been fully healthy since the collision in Spring Training. He has had better days and worse ones, but hasn't completely gotten past it, which explains why Leyland has rested Dirks in some games against right-handed pitchers in favor of Don Kelly.
"It's just something where we've got to get through it and go from there," Dirks said.
Dirks is getting through, but he hasn't thrived, at least not at the plate. He entered Sunday batting .167 (8-for-48) with a double and four RBIs, though he has stolen two bases in as many attempts.
"I'm not going to make excuses for why I'm not hitting," he said.
Infante thriving out of No. 9 spot for Tigers
DETROIT -- Torii Hunter has an analogy for the top half of the Tigers' lineup. Leadoff hitter Austin Jackson is the table-setter, and Hunter is the server, for the middle of the lineup to go eat.
He now has a comparison for No. 9 hitter Omar Infante.
"He's the silverware," Hunter said Saturday.
That will do. The way Infante is hitting so far this year, for a No. 9 hitter, is sterling. It's making the days of the Tigers' offensive struggles at the bottom of their lineup a distant memory.
Nobody in baseball -- in other words, nobody in the American League, since the National League has the pitcher batting ninth -- has as many hits out of the No. 9 spot as Infante, and it's not close. He has 23; nobody else has more than 15.
Infante went 2-for-4 with a solo homer in Sunday's 8-3 win over the Braves, and he went 6-for-12 with two doubles, two homers and five runs scored in the series batting ninth.
"Omar's a good hitter," manager Jim Leyland said. "He's a smart hitter. He's got a feel for what they're trying to do to him. He's not a home run hitter, that's for sure, but he can jump on one once in a while, as he's done the last couple days."
Just two other No. 9 hitters in baseball, Yankees infielder Jayson Nix and Astros shortstop Marwin Gonzalez, entered Sunday batting over .300 from that spot. Infante, at 23-for-65, is batting .354 in the nine-hole.
Hunter's comparison is ironic, because Infante might well have ended up being the server if not for him. Infante bounced back and forth between the ninth and second spots down the stretch last season, depending on the opposing pitcher. When Hunter signed with the Tigers in November, he took the second spot.
As it turned out, the Tigers gained more than a No. 2 hitter with Hunter's arrival. They gained a No. 9 hitter as well.
Dotel won't throw until elbow swelling goes down
DETROIT -- Octavio Dotel continues to receive treatment for inflammation in his right elbow, a week after the condition left him unavailable for the end of the West Coast trip and eventually landed him on the 15-day disabled list.
Dotel won't pick up a baseball again until he shows no symptoms of swelling in the elbow. When that happens, he'll begin a throwing progression before likely getting back into action in a Minor League rehab assignment.
At this rate, it's questionable whether Dotel will be ready to return when he's eligible to come off the DL next Sunday. The longer he's out, the more Major League seasoning hard-throwing closer prospect Bruce Rondon will get. Rondon has pitched in two games since his arrival from Triple-A Toledo.
Herndon given Tigers African American Legacy Award
DETROIT -- Larry Herndon visited Comerica Park on Sunday to be honored for his playing career, receiving the annual Tigers African American Legacy Award. However, he was happier talking about his coaching work and the Tigers prospects he has worked with as the hitting coach at Class A Lakeland.
It's the perfect job at the perfect level, he believes, and he feels rewarded watching players blossom.
"I came up here for the playoffs last year," Herndon said, "and I'm sitting right behind home plate and I saw Avisail Garcia throw out Coco Crisp at the plate [during the American League Division Series]. I worked with Avisail before, and to see him grow into a big leaguer like that, it's kind of hard to describe the feeling of seeing him grow. And that's the kind of player he is, and will be. Just to see these guys grow is a big deal for me, very rewarding."
He thinks a lot of Garcia, one of his favorite players to watch. He also thinks a lot of Nick Castellanos, whom he coached for the first half of last season.
"Actually, that's all I needed Nick for. He hit .400 for us," Herndon said. "Fantastic hitter, just a natural. He has the stuff to be quite an outstanding big leaguer. He follows pitches. He watches the game. You can't fool him too much. He's just young. He's fantastic."
The Tigers African American Legacy Award concludes the Tigers' three-day Negro Leagues Weekend.
• Look for the Tigers to skip Rick Porcello for a turn in the rotation after his next start Thursday in Houston, just as they did during their recent West Coast trip. Detroit has off-days May 6 and 8, which means two extra days of rest unless someone is skipped. The Tigers wouldn't need Porcello again until May 14 at home, also against the Astros.
• Garcia could be promoted to Triple-A Toledo in the coming days as his Minor League rehab assignment continues. He's batting 2-for-11 in three games with Class A Lakeland.