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MLB Team Report - Detroit Tigers - INSIDE PITCH

Things look bright for Detroit the remainder of the season after the Tigers entered the All-Star break with their third-largest lead to that point in the season, 6 1/2 games over the second-place Kansas City Royals.

Manager Brad Ausmus confesses he'll now begin to take peeks at the standings after spending the first half professing he isn't all that concerned about who sits where early in the season.

"Now, I might take a cursory look every once in a while," he said. "But if we keep our house in order, everything should work out fine."

Detroit was streaky up to the All-Star break, opening 27-12 before going 9-20 to fall out of first place when Kansas City swept the Tigers in a three-game set at Comerica Park to take a 1 1/2-game lead that evaporated in a couple of days.

The Tigers went into the break on a 17-6 spurt that included taking three of four from the Royals to take that 6 1/2-game lead. Detroit will have 71 games left when it resumes play July 18 at home against Cleveland.

"We've played much better the last three weeks," Ausmus said. "We hope to enjoy the time off and then come back and start over."

Spring training ended with the Tigers wondering who would replace shortstop Jose Iglesias, out for the year with shin splints in both legs. Rookie Eugenio Suarez, hauled up from Double-A after a brief test with Triple-A Toledo, has answered that question with solid defense and better-than-expected hitting.

The Tigers hit well until they hit their skid but outfielder J.D. Martinez emerged seemingly from nowhere and took a .346 average with 13 home runs and 43 RBIs into the break. The second portion of the schedule will show whether he's for real but his presence helped them out of their slump and made it much more difficult for teams to get through the middle of the Detroit lineup without difficulty.

"It seems like every team that does well has someone you don't expect to do well," Ausmus said. "There's always someone that steps up that plays well, hits well, pitches well."

Detroit's rotation has remained largely intact for the second year in a row, but bullpen reinforcements are expected due to inconsistencies at the back end. Closer Joe Nathan has 19 saves, but he also sports a 5.61 ERA and went nearly a month where closing a game for him was like closing your eyes and taking a swing at your hand with a hammer -- painful.

The Tigers have added veteran relievers Jose Veres and Octavio Dotel following the break in recent years to help them to the playoffs and some acquisitions such as that can be expected.

If teams figure out J.D. Martinez and take away Suarez's bat, Detroit could have problems down the stretch.

But the club should get immediate help with the return of Victor Martinez, who missed 11 of the club's last 13 games with a sore right side.

"He took some swings off the tee (July 13) and felt good," Ausmus said. "He's going to rest it the next four days. We'll come back Friday (July 18) and see how it feels."

With his club holding a 6 1/2-game lead with 71 to play, he should feel pretty good.

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MLB Team Report - Detroit Tigers - NOTES, QUOTES