MINNEAPOLIS -- Jim Leyland was one of Fernando Rodney's more vocal supporters when Rodney was closing for the Tigers three years ago, trying to get Detroit to the postseason.
Now that Rodney is closing games this weekend for the Rays against the White Sox, games that could get the Tigers to another division title, Leyland is pulling for him again. The Tigers arrived in Minneapolis in time to watch most of the Rays' win over the White Sox on Thursday night, including Rodney's ninth inning.
When he saw Rodney's celebration, in which he simulates shooting an arrow into the air, Leyland enjoyed it. Of course, he famously professed that he had no problem with Rodney wearing his hat crooked during his time in Detroit.
"I hope he shoots that bow and arrow a few more times," Leyland said.
The Rays faced the White Sox again on Friday in the second game of their four-game series.
"You can call Fernando Rodney and tell him if he shoots it three times in the next three days, I'll be his cupid forever," Leyland said.
Scherzer better, but not ready to return
MINNEAPOLIS -- The good news for the Tigers in regard to injured starter Max Scherzer is that his shoulder felt better on Friday than it did on Thursday.
"I do have more range than I did yesterday," Scherzer said on Friday afternoon at Target Field, "so it's a step in the right direction."
The bad news, or at least the non-news, is that the improvement doesn't make a timetable for Scherzer's return any clearer, either for the regular season or beyond. At this point you could pretty much flip a coin on whether he'll start on Wednesday at Kansas City.
"If I had to handicap it, I'd say maybe 50-50 for Wednesday," manager Jim Leyland said, "but I'm not counting on it."
The soreness in the deltoid that scuttled any plans of Scherzer starting against the Twins on Friday night "should subside fairly soon," he said. From here, however, there remains the process of getting his arm stretched out and pitching-tested. He's looking to play catch on Saturday for the first time since he felt the soreness out of Tuesday's bullpen session.
His final hurdle to pitching in a game will be a full bullpen session in which he throws all of his pitches off a mound. Whether he'll be able to do that in the next three or four days is anything but clear.
"From a physical standpoint, I think I could be there," he said, "but I have to be smart."
Scherzer also said that he can't get caught up in the playoff race and try to push himself if he isn't ready. Yet if the division title isn't a factor, Scherzer probably isn't going to be pitching on Wednesday.
"If we're in or out [of the postseason] by then, Scherzer will not pitch [on Wednesday] under any circumstances," Leyland said.
That could have a big impact on the Tigers' postseason rotation if they do make it. If Scherzer doesn't pitch on Wednesday but is ready, he could be lined up to start sooner in an American League Division Series than he might be otherwise. If he starts on Wednesday, he could conceivably start Game 3 on his regular rest.
Porcello's drop in velocity a mystery
MINNEAPOLIS -- Pitching coach Jeff Jones and others spent Friday looking at footage of Rick Porcello's recent outings, looking for a reason why Porcello's velocity seems to be dropping as he gets into the middle innings.
They're still looking.
"We can't figure it out," manager Jim Leyland said. "As with all the pitchers, he's been checked out, and there are no red flags medically, so that's good."
Porcello is pain-free, so the Tigers plan to send the sinkerballer to the mound again on Monday in Kansas City against the same Royals lineup that piled up hits in the air against him on Wednesday at Comerica Park.
Porcello's velocity within that outing fell from 92-94 mph early to 89-90 mph in his fourth and final inning, according to data from MLB.com Gameday.
"If he's [throwing] 89 and it's sinking like crazy, it's all right," Leyland said. "But if he's 89 and up, that's a no-no."
Porcello hasn't gotten through six innings in any of his last five outings. But then, neither have any of the pitchers on the staff who could replace him if he has to miss a start. Drew Smyly started in place of the injured Max Scherzer on Friday night and will be lined up to do the same Wednesday in Kansas City if Scherzer can't go.
Valverde feeling better, available on Friday
MINNEAPOLIS -- Closer Jose Valverde said before batting practice on Friday afternoon that his body was a bit sore but that he should be fine to pitch. He looked better after missing Thursday's game with illness.
"I'll be OK," Valverde said.
Joaquin Benoit closed in Valverde's place on Thursday and gave up a game-tying home run to Billy Butler on his third pitch before retiring the Royals in order from there to keep the score tied going into the bottom of the ninth.
Valverde has six saves in 10 career outings at Target Field, and has allowed just a lone unearned run on six hits over 12 1/3 innings, with 13 strikeouts.
NBA star Kevin Love took early batting practice at Target Field on Friday, hitting at least three home runs, including a line drive into the left-field upper deck. A few Tigers were on hand to watch, including noted Lakers fan Gerald Laird, who got Love to autograph a ball.
"I told him he'd look great in a Laker uniform," Laird said.