DETROIT - Jeff Larish is no longer a major leaguer, but Tigers manager Jim Leyland will not forget him.
Larish was optioned to Toledo yesterday to make room for Gary Sheffield, who was activated from the 15-day disabled list.
"He made a great impression on me, I really liked him a lot," Leyland said. "I'm going to miss having him around. I'm not getting carried away, but I really liked his presence."
Leyland said he likes Larish, a lefty-hitting first baseman, so much that he wants him to work at third base and in the outfield before games while with the Mud Hens. Larish played those positions while at Arizona State.
Larish, 25, batted .200 with a homer and seven RBIs in 15 games for the Tigers - his first stint in the big leagues. He said he'll rejoin the Hens tonight in Syracuse.
Leyland said that Larish should work at those other corner positions for the benefit of the player and the Tigers. Detroit has a long-term first baseman in Miguel Cabrera but is "starved" for left-handed batters, and Leyland thinks Larish could get to the big leagues to stay by playing a different position.
Leyland said what endeared Larish to him was that after sitting last week while the Tigers were playing in National League parks, he produced a pinch-hit, game-tying single Saturday in San Diego.
Larish, who has 16 homers in Toledo - which is still tied for fifth in the International League, expected his first major league action would be short-lived. He served as the Tigers' DH against righties while Sheffield was out.
"Not playing every day gave me a chance to get my mind right, work out some kinks, and now I just want to build on that and on what I was doing [in Toledo] earlier this year," Larish said.
Sheffield, who hit seventh as the Tigers' DH last night, returned after being placed on the DL May 27 with a strained left oblique muscle. He said his stint on the DL gave him a chance to rest his surgically repaired right shoulder, which has bothered him all season.
"The oblique problem was probably a blessing in disguise," Sheffield said.
HEART TO HEART: Sheffield said he spent time with Dontrelle Willis while on rehab assignment with Single-A Lakeland.
Willis is in Lakeland trying to iron out flaws in his pitching mechanics that caused him to walk 21 in 111/3 innings with the Tigers this year. Sheffield said he rode to games with Willis last week.
"I told him 'this is a bump in the road. Just be patient,' and everybody's pulling for him," Sheffield said. "It's tough to watch him go through it because he's such a likable guy, a hard worker, and a 22-game winner."
INJURY UPDATE: Utility infielder Ramon Santiago (separated left shoulder) has begun baseball activities and said he would be ready for a rehab assignment - possibly in Toledo - in about a week.
Santiago, on the DL since June 5, is being replaced by former Hen Michael Hollimon, who appeared in four games through Sunday.
- Joe Vardon