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Tigers notebook, 7/21

July 21, 2011

Ties may smooth Betemit’s transition

MINNEAPOLIS — Being traded within the same division, Wilson Betemit was pretty familiar with the Tigers before joining the club on Thursday at Target Field. But the connections between Betemit and the Tigers go beyond just the familiarity of divisional opponents.

Betemit was a teammate of right-hander Brad Penny while both were members of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and he also played with fellow infielder Ramon Santiago in the Dominican Winter League.

“I’m happy to be here,” Betemit said. “I’ve got a lot of friends on this team, and I’m happy to be here today.”

Another connection that Betemit discussed before Thursday’s 6-2 victory was between him and Tigers bench coach Rafael Belliard.

Before joining the Tigers coaching staff, Belliard was a roving infield instructor in the Atlanta Braves organization from 2000-05. Betemit was a top prospect for the Braves, signing with them at age 15 in 1997 and spending all or part of four seasons in the Major Leagues with the Braves in 2001 and 2004-06.

Belliard also played a large role in Betemit’s move from shortstop to third base when the Braves decided they wanted him to switch positions.

“I always played shortstop,” Betemit said. “Working with Rafael Belliard at that time when I was moving to third base helped me a lot.”

Betemit eager to contribute to Tigers’ run

MINNEAPOLIS — On his first day with the Tigers, third baseman Wilson Betemit was in the lineup on Thursday at Target Field, batting ninth.

Betemit said he was not surprised by Wednesday’s trade, and that he was happy to be with the Tigers.

After a strong 2010 season, Betemit opened the season as the Royals’ starting third baseman, hitting .281 (57-for-203) with 15 doubles, three home runs and 27 RBIs. But once Kansas City called up prospect Mike Moustakas last month, his role changed.

“I knew this was going to happen,” said Betemit. “The guy, Moustakas, is playing every day, and they were talking about trading me. I didn’t know they were going to trade me here, and I didn’t know it was going to happen this soon, but now I’m here and it’s time to play.”

Tigers manager Jim Leyland said he always liked what he saw out of Betemit when the veteran infielder was in the opposing dugout.

Now, he hopes to see the same with Betemit taking over at third base, a position that has been a weakness in the Tigers’ lineup this season.

“He’s somebody that I’ve always respected when I’m in the other dugout,” Leyland said. “I worry about him when he steps in there. I hope I don’t have to worry about him anymore when he steps in there.”

Betemit, who went 1-for-4 with a run scored and a throwing error in the Tigers’ 6-2 victory, said one of the things he liked best about the trade was not having to face right-hander Justin Verlander anymore. They had faced each other only once before, but Verlander won that battle with a strikeout.

“Oh yeah, that’s what we talked about earlier,” Betemit said. “He’s a great pitcher. He’s unbelievable.”

Another aspect of Betemit’s addition that Leyland said he was happy with was the fact that the Tigers now have three switch hitters in their lineup, with Betemit joining catcher Victor Martinez and second baseman Carlos Guillen.

Betemit talked with reporters about how he initially preferred to bat only right-handed when he was a Braves prospect.

“When I was with the Braves, I didn’t like to hit lefty,” Betemit said. “My first game, against a righty you’re supposed to hit lefty, but I hit righty. I was like, ‘I don’t like to hit lefty,’ and they told me, ‘No, you’re going to hit lefty.’

“My first year, I hit like .220, my second year I hit .270. … Then my third year, I hit like .320, and then the other one .340. Then they said, ‘See? We told you you’re going to hit lefty.’ Then they told me, ‘You want to hit righty?’ I said, ‘No, I’m OK.'”

In relief, Coke brings a smile to Leyland

MINNEAPOLIS — Since moving to the bullpen at the beginning of the month, Tigers lefty Phil Coke has been impressive in six relief appearances.

In 5 2/3 innings, Coke has a 1.58 ERA, giving up just two runs (one earned) on seven hits with one walk and four strikeouts. Coke pitched the ninth on Thursday, allowing an unearned run on a Wilson Betemit throwing error, and giving up a single as well in the inning.

Tigers manager Jim Leyland really liked what he saw out of Coke in the ninth.

“Coke, I thought, looked really sharp at the end, really good,” Leyland said.

“I thought he was really smooth tonight, really good. That was an easy 95 [mph]. You don’t see many lefties throwing 95, it was pretty good. The reason it was so impressive is it was coming out so easy. It looked like it was effortless.”

Worth noting

Despite being 0-for-17 in his career against Twins right-hander Carl Pavano, second baseman Carlos Guillen was in the starting lineup on Thursday, batting seventh.

Said Tigers manager Jim Leyland of the decision: “It’s one of those cases where he’s a veteran guy [and] he’s swinging so good.”

Leyland also said if he needed a late-inning defensive replacement in right field for Magglio Ordonez, it could be Don Kelly, Andy Dirks or Ryan Raburn. In talking about such a possibility, Leyland also raved about Kelly’s versatility.

In the Tigers’ 6-2 win, Guillen finished 0-for-2 against Pavano with a sacrifice fly. He grounded into an inning-ending double play in the fourth with the bases loaded

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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