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Published: Sunday, 5/11/2008

Leyland's moves not always in the book

DETROIT - If an actual manual exists on how to be a major league manager, there wouldn't be a copy of it sitting on Tigers skipper Jim Leyland's desk.

"I don't like going by the book because I don't know who wrote it," Leyland said yesterday.

Last week was certainly an unconventional one for the Tigers and their manager. Consider:

•Leyland ordered closer Todd Jones to put the Yankees' potential game-winning run on base via a walk with two outs in the ninth inning Friday night.

•He elected not to have Edgar Renteria bunt when the Tigers had the potential game-tying run reach base to start the ninth against the Red Sox Wednesday night.

•He took the designated hitter who wasn't hitting - Gary Sheffield - and made him the left fielder, hoping the move would get Sheffield's bat going.

By the way, each of those against-the-grain decisions worked.

Jones intentionally walked Hideki Matsui Friday night, putting the tying and go-ahead runs on base, but got Shelley Duncan to line out to center and preserve a 6-5 victory.

Renteria hit a slow roller to shortstop that Julio Lugo bobbled, and the Tigers stunned dominant closer Jonathan Papelbon and the Red Sox with two runs for a 10-9 triumph.

Sheffield went 4-for-12 with four walks and two RBIs while playing left field four times last week, lifting his average from .185 on Monday to .204 entering yesterday's game.

Leyland has also put in overtime at the office, often staying at Comerica Park into the wee hours of the morning pouring over statistics and crafting creative lineups.

At different points last week he had rookie Matt Joyce, who he considers a top-notch outfielder, DHing and batting second in his first few days with Detroit.

Leyland, perhaps more than anyone, realizes the Tigers were not supposed to be a sub-.500 team this late in the season. He's also doing everything he can to rectify the situation.

He's stirred the lineup, had Miguel Cabrera and Carlos Guillen swap positions, and at different times scolded and encouraged his players.

Leyland is doing his best to be an alarm clock. But will the Tigers ever wake up?

ANY TAKERS?: Of the 32 players who have played at least 20 major league games at third base this year, 15 were batting .250 or better, five had seven or more home runs, and nine had at least 20 RBIs entering play yesterday.

Hard to believe every major league team passed on Mud Hens third baseman Mike Hessman this spring.

Entering last night's contest, the reigning International League MVP had compiled a .313 average, 14 homers, and 27 RBIs in 34 Triple-A games. His home-run total isn't just the best in the IL, but in all of baseball - major and minor leagues included.

"I would not be afraid to bring him up here if the situation dictated it," Leyland said. "He's a very nice safety valve to have down there [in Toledo], from a selfish standpoint. But do I wish he were playing in the big leagues somewhere else? Sure."

There's no room for Hessman in Detroit with Guillen, Cabrera, and Brandon Inge on the roster. But the fact no one claimed Hessman off waivers this spring - which enabled him to return to the Hens - is bordering on absurd, especially when given his production.

The knock on Hessman is that he strikes out too much (he whiffed 153 times with the Hens and 17 times in 17 games with the Tigers last year), but Leyland said the power is a reason to overlook the strikeouts.

"If you give him 550 at-bats [in the majors], there's no telling how many [homers] he might hit," Leyland said. "I think he'd strike out a lot, I think he'd do some damage a lot."

THEN WHAT?: Dontrelle Willis is going to pitch for the Hens on Monday in Charlotte and on Saturday in Columbus.

If all goes well - meaning if his right knee doesn't act up and he throws strikes - Willis will come off the disabled list and rejoin the Tigers' rotation.

Still up in the air is what happens to Armando Galarraga. Galarraga's 3.07 ERA and three quality starts are still tops among Detroit's starting pitchers, but Leyland already said Willis will take over Galarraga's rotation spot.

Leyland doesn't sound like he wants this to happen, but Galarraga could be returned to Toledo. The other option is to make him a long reliever, another less-than-attractive option because it would mean Galarraga could go long stretches without pitching at all.

If Galarraga turns in another strong start Saturday against Arizona who knows?

LEE UPDATE: Cleveland Indians pitcher Cliff Lee - owner of a 6-0 record and preposterously low, best-in-business 0.81 ERA - has not walked a batter in 28 innings. His 101 consecutive batters without a walk is the lowest active streak in the majors.

Lee looks for his seventh win in as many starts tomorrow night against Toronto.

- Joe Vardon



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