SAN DIEGO -- The Tigers have had plenty of struggles up and down their bullpen. Luke Putkonen hasn't been among them. In fact, until Friday, he hadn't pitched at all.
As odd as it sounds for a right-handed long reliever who made the Opening Day roster, Putkonen went the first seven games without being used. When he replaced Rick Porcello in the seventh inning, he became the last Tiger to appear in a game.
It's not as if his manager, Brad Ausmus, forgot he was out there.
"I've talked to him multiple times," Ausmus said. "Today I said he's got a bad manager who can't get him into a game. But with the off-days and the way the games have gone, there just hasn't been the time to put him in."
It's not the first time, and it's not the first manager. Putkonen made only one appearance in a two-week stretch last July before being sent back to Triple-A Toledo, and faced just two batters in that outing.
He got two-thirds of an inning Friday, inducing ground balls, but struggling to get outs off them. The first batter he faced, Everth Cabrera, hit a ground ball just out of the reach of Ian Kinsler through the right side, then Chris Denorfia hit a ground ball deep enough up the middle to allow Andrew Cashner to beat the throw home. He retired Seth Smith on a ground out and Jedd Gyorko on a soft liner right to shortstop Andrew Romine.
It was a tough situation, Ausmus said, but he handled it well.
"He was very professional about it," Ausmus said. "We finally got him in there. I wish the circumstances were better, but with all the off-days and rainouts, the way the games have gone, he's just kind of a victim of circumstance."
Staying cautious, Tigers give Hunter day off
SAN DIEGO -- Torii Hunter was among the Tigers at Petco Park to take early batting practice Friday afternoon, but there was enough lingering soreness in his left knee that manager Brad Ausmus opted for precaution and rested him for one day. Thus, Hunter was not in the starting lineup for Friday night's series opener against the Padres.
"If I had to, I would play today," Hunter said.
Hunter was available to pinch-hit, but not to run.
"He actually looked really good in batting practice," Ausmus said, "but just moving in the outfield, Petco Park's pretty big in right field. It's just probably, I think, a smarter move to give him another day. Hopefully, he's ready to go tomorrow."
Hunter bruised his left knee crashing into the short wall down the right-field line at Dodger Stadium Tuesday night. While Petco Park has an expansive right field, even with the fences moved in last year, it has the advantage of ample foul territory down the lines before players risk running into the box seats.
Ausmus enjoying time near home in Del Mar
SAN DIEGO -- Brad Ausmus had been looking forward to his day off at home in nearby Del Mar for weeks, and he was openly hoping he could surf the waters of the Pacific Ocean. The Tigers manager's actual off-day was a little more mundane.
"When I was walking my dog, I looked at the surf," he said. "It was too small. It wasn't worth it."
He wasn't kidding. The 44-year-old still surfs, and he was hoping to get his first chance to hit the waves in months. While smaller waves might sound easier and safer, Ausmus argued it's the opposite.
"When the waves are small, it's a little more dangerous, because the water's more shallow," he said. "You can fall off and twist a knee or hit your head on the sandbar. When the waves are a little bit bigger, it's deeper water. Now, there is a bigger risk of death when the waves get bigger, but the risk of injury probably lower."
His off-day wasn't a waste, not by a long shot. He had a cookout at his house for much of the Tigers' traveling party.
"It wasn't just the coaching staff, but also the strength coaches, the trainers, Dave Dombrowski, the bullpen catchers, everybody," Ausmus said. "We probably had about 25 people, even some wives and some children that were out here."
Smyly returns to starting rotation on Wednesday
SAN DIEGO -- Drew Smyly reprised his role as bullpen savior Wednesday against the Dodgers, but his relief stint will come to an end in the next couple days. Manager Brad Ausmus said the left-hander is tentatively scheduled to return to the rotation and start Wednesday against Cleveland at Comerica Park.
"That's the plan right now," Ausmus said.
It's a few days earlier than expected. The Tigers could go without a fifth starter until next Saturday if they wanted. By returning Smyly early, however, he matches up against an Indians lineup that leans heavily toward left-handed batters and switch-hitters. The only purely right-handed hitter in Cleveland's regular batting order is catcher Yan Gomes.
Correspondingly, the Indians entered Friday batting just .192 with a .542 OPS against left-handed pitching, compared with .265 and .764 off right-handers.
Smyly delivered three scoreless innings against the Dodgers on Wednesday, facing the minimum nine batters. It was eerily similar to his early-season bullpen success last year, which eventually elevated him from long reliever to setup man and left-handed specialist.
"It's a unique situation," Ausmus said of Smyly. "He's supposed to be one of our starters and because of the schedule, we can use him in the bullpen. Fortunately, we've been able to use him in spots where he's gone multiple innings, so we've taken advantage of that during this two-week stretch.
"But he's been outstanding. He doesn't seem to get rattled by big situations. I think you could pitch him three innings or you could pitch him in the bottom of the ninth, and I don't think it would change his demeanor."
• Though there are no indications yet that the Tigers will scout free-agent reliever Joel Hanrahan's reported showcase session for teams next week, it would not be a surprise if they did. The team had a scout watch another free agent, Ryan Madson, throw a similar session in February. They usually watch several such sessions, even if just out of due diligence. Hanrahan is coming back from Tommy John surgery.