Tigers are thrilled to see V-Mart return from injury

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Though the Tigers faced the host Mets on Thursday afternoon in Grapefruit League action, Tigers manager Jim Leyland didn't need to deal with National League rules.

Yet, with Interleague Play throughout the season for the first time -- and expanded by two games -- there will be 10 instances over the course of the year when his pitching staff must be prepared for appearances at the plate and bases, beginning May 7 at Nationals Park.

"That'll be a project we'll work into our system," Leyland said. "I think it's too early right now. It'll be a little different this year. Work them a little more and figure out who those pitchers are going to be. That's a strange thing when pitchers start hitting and they haven't done it in awhile."

Moreover, Detroit's last regular-season series will be played at Marlins Park, something that could affect designated hitter Victor Martinez.

Martinez, 34, is a career .303 hitter with 143 home runs and 741 RBIs. Over 10 Major League seasons, Martinez has played 853 games at catcher and 152 at first base.

But with Alex Avila as the backstop, Prince Fielder at first and Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera at third, Martinez's playing time could be limited, and potentially magnified during a final regular-season series for a team expected to contend for the postseason.

"He's not going to play first because I've got Prince Fielder, and third because I've got Miguel Cabrera there, so the only other option -- obviously -- is if we felt he was healthy enough to catch a game to get his bat in the lineup," Leyland said of Martinez, who missed the 2012 season after having microfracture surgery on his left knee. "That would be an option. That's something once again down the road we'll address. We want to make sure he's healthy first and can be our consistent DH. And if that works out later on that would be great to get his bat in the lineup."

Fister 'pleased' with longest outing of spring

DET@NYM: Fister tosses four strong innings

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Tigers right-hander Doug Fister made his slider the focus of his third Grapefruit League start in a 9-1 victory over the Mets on Thursday afternoon at Tradition Field.

In his longest outing of the spring, Fister allowed one run on three hits in four innings, with four strikeouts and two walks. Of his 71 pitches, 43 were for strikes. He retired the side via strikeout in his final frame.

"Overall I was pleased," Fister said. "There's still a lot of room for a lot of improvement. My sinker was all over the place today. It's definitely been one of my focuses and will continue to be. Still working on that."

The 29-year-old, who will enter his fifth big league season (third with Detroit), said he felt his curveball and changeup "coming along well" and that he "figured some things out" with his cutter.

Heading into Thursday's game, Fister had surrendered nine runs on 11 hits over seven innings for an 0-2 record and 11.57 ERA in three outings.

Slow starts to Spring Training aren't unusual for Fister, who holds a collective 6-7 record and 5.14 ERA since 2010. In his first two camps, he posted ERAs of 6.94 and 5.01, respectively, before dropping to 1.86 in 2012.

"I wouldn't say I'm waiting for [the slider], but I'm working hard on it," said Fister, who went 10-10 with a 3.45 ERA in 26 starts last season. "It's a little typical of my spring to take a little bit longer to really fine tune detail of the sinker. I'm not too worried. I'm still focused on it and working with it."

Rondon showcases slider in efficient outing

Outlook: Rondon will compete for closer role in '13

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Tigers right-hander Bruce Rondon turned in his best outing of the spring during the ninth inning of Detroit's 9-1 victory over the Mets on Thursday afternoon at Tradition Field.

It took just 12 pitches -- eight strikes -- for him to retire three batters, notching his third consecutive scoreless appearance. Rondon induced a groundout to short, a strikeout swinging and a flyout to right field against a pinch-hitter and a pair of defensive replacements.

"Today I thought my slider was the best that it has been all spring," Rondon, ranked by MLB.com as the Tigers' No. 2 prospect, said through a translator. "I felt very confident with that pitch, and the catcher gave me the pitch I wanted to throw and it made it even better."

Facing the Mets for the fourth time in 11 days, Rondon tried to mix his pitches more. He threw a 99-mph fastball inside, something that pitching coach Jeff Jones has emphasized.

In his previous six outings, Rondon had struck out nine batters in 5 2/3 innings, but had also allowed three runs on nine hits and walked five for a 4.76 ERA.

The 22-year-old, who can reach triple digits with his fastball, is in his second big league camp. Rondon could not only make the Opening Day roster, but also earn closing duties.

"He had pretty good command, threw a couple of swing-and-miss breaking balls," said Tigers manager Jim Leyland, who was impressed with Rondon's secondary pitches. "It was a nice outing."

Flat tire keeps Prince from road game vs. Mets

DET@NYM: Tuiasosopo hits a two-run shot to left

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Initially penciled in to bat cleanup and start at first base, Prince Fielder faced a bump along the way that prevented him from making the trip to Tradition Field for Thursday afternoon's game against the Mets.

"Prince was making the trip, and Prince had a big-time flat tire on the turnpike and they could only put one of those little tires on that's good for like 50 miles," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "He wasn't sure if he would make it down and back on that tire, so I told him to stay home."

Fielder called Leyland from the Orlando area to say his car had broken down and that somebody was coming by to take care of it.

Leyland joked that the four-time All-Star would have to buy him a meal from Steak 'n Shake.

"I didn't want to take a chance," Leyland said. "I told him to stay home. He'll probably go to Jupiter now."

Designated hitter Victor Martinez moved from fifth to fourth in the order, while Matt Tuiasosopo earned the start at first and clubbed his first spring home run, a two-run shot in the second inning.

Leyland taking time with outfield, 'pen evaluation

MLB Network looks at the 2013 Tigers

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- With 18 days remaining until Opening Day, Tigers manager Jim Leyland expects certain jobs to come down to the wire.

Outfield and bullpen positions are still up in the air.

Quintin Berry started in center and batted leadoff, while Avisail Garcia earned the spot in right and hit seventh on Thursday afternoon against the Mets. Austin Jackson and Torii Hunter did not make the trip. Andy Dirks appears to be the projected left fielder.

Left-hander Darin Downs, who has a 1.13 ERA in seven Spring Training games, could earn a spot in the bullpen. The 28-year-old went 2-1 with a 3.48 ERA in 18 games as a rookie in 2012. Leyland has mulled a closer-by-committee approach.

"We have several possibilities, and like I tell [the beat writers] all the time -- this is probably going to go all the way down to the wire," Leyland said. "I can have these things every day until the rest of Spring Training, but I don't know. If I knew, I'd tell you, and right now I have no clue how this will play out."

When it comes to deciding who makes the roster, Leyland weighs a player's track record a little more than his performance in the spring. He noted that people have been fooled in the past by a month's worth of play.

"You have to be careful with that," Leyland said. "If a guy's got a pretty good track record -- whether that be in the Major Leagues or the Minor Leagues -- and then comes to Spring Training and looks healthy and pretty good, then that probably gives him a leg up," Leyland said.

Worth noting

The Tigers hit five Mets batters over two games in the past week, including Jordany Valdespin in the groin. New York right-hander Dillon Gee hit Tuiasosopo and Garcia in the first inning of Thursday's game.