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Raburn likes Toledo ... in a minor sort of way

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Ryan Raburn

The Blade/Dave Zapotosky
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DUNEDIN, Fla. - Ryan Raburn spent nearly three seasons in Toledo, yet he said yesterday he still doesn't know what a Mud Hen is.

"I just know Toledo is a pretty cool place to play - the best place I've ever played in the minor leagues," he said.

Raburn also knows he could be headed back to Toledo this spring, even though he made the most of his opportunity when the Tigers called upon his services last year.

In the middle of an all-star season with the Hens - Raburn was leading the International League with 60 runs scored and was second with 64 RBIs - he was summoned to Detroit on July 6, and went on to bat .304 with four homers and 27 RBIs in 49 games for the Tigers.

Raburn's performance was enough to earn rave reviews from manager Jim Leyland, just not enough to guarantee a spot on Detroit's opening day roster.

Although he is listed in the Tigers' media guide as an outfielder, Raburn can also play in dirt, and appeared in 20 games at second and third base combined for the Tigers last year. But big-name, offseason additions like third baseman Miguel Cabrera and shortstop Edgar Renteria, as well as outfielder Jacque Jones, squeezed some, but not all, of the life out of Raburn's chances to break camp with the Tigers.

"He deserves to be on the team," Leyland said. "Will he be a victim? It's possible. Do I want him on the team? Yes. Is he going to be on the team? I can't say that 100 percent right now."

Leyland said Raburn isn't competing with anyone for a roster spot per se, but it is a numbers game. The decision could depend on whether or not the Tigers can trade Brandon Inge.

Raburn didn't do anything to squash his big-league dreams yesterday, going 3-for-3 with a double in the Tigers' 3-1 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin, Fla.

Raburn, 26, first experienced life as a Tiger in 2004, when he batted .138 in 12 games in September. He opened the next year in Toledo, where he belted 56 homers and was named to two all-star teams in parts of three seasons with the Hens.

He said his success in Toledo translated into good things with the Tigers.

"The first time I was up there, I knew I could play," Raburn said. "But in the same sense in the back of my mind it was like, OK, can I really play with these guys? Being in Triple-A for three years, I felt I could play with these guys. My confidence was a lot higher."

As much as he likes Toledo - he even said he's OK with Walleye as the name of the new hockey team - Raburn obviously would rather play in Detroit. And he said he would do anything to latch on with the Tigers, even strap on catcher's gear, something he said he hasn't done in seven seasons.

"That may be going on a bit of a limb there, but whatever it takes, I'm willing to do, because that's where I want to be - the big leagues," Raburn said. "I've just got a find a way to get up there."

NOTES: Leyland named right-hander Justin Verlander his opening day starter. Verlander, who worked two scoreless innings yesterday, won a team-high 18 games and posted a 3.66 ERA last year. Leyland said Verlander will be followed in the starting rotation by Kenny Rogers and Jeremy Bonderman, but he's undecided whether Dontrelle Willis or Nate Robertson should pitch fourth. Rick Porcello, the Tigers' No. 1 draft pick in 2007, pitched two perfect innings in his spring-training debut yesterday. At 19, Porcello impressed Leyland with his poise and performance, but the Tigers manager said there was no chance Porcello would break camp with Detroit.

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