DETROIT -- Octavio Dotel's return from the disabled list means a return to previous roles for Detroit's young right-handed relievers, Brayan Villarreal foremost among them. The confidence Villarreal picked up from pitching in big situations, the Tigers hope, should last.
Villarreal pitched in eight games after Dotel's last outing June 2. He allowed five hits and three walks over 10 2/3 innings in that stretch while striking out 14 batters. He gave up two runs while allowing two out of four inherited runners to score.
The numbers were similar to what he was posting before then, since coming back from Triple-A Toledo in mid-May. Some of the situations, however, were bigger. He closed out three games and pitched in four others where the game was closer than three runs.
If Villarreal looked like a more confident pitcher, it wasn't a coincidence.
"I feel a lot of confidence now in myself," he said. "I've been concentrating pretty good. The best part for me and what I'm doing right now is that I feel like I'm getting more focused on what I'm doing, concentrating on what I'm doing."
Some of the credit for that, he said, goes to Dotel.
"He's been telling me, 'Your stuff right now, it's pretty good. Don't be afraid to throw the ball over the plate,'" Villarreal said. "That makes me feel confidence. Now I just have to keep it just like that."
Tigers activate Dotel from 15-day DL
DETROIT -- The Tigers got a major bump for their bullpen on Tuesday when they activated right-hander Octavio Dotel from the 15-day disabled list. Detroit optioned Thad Weber back to Triple-A Toledo to make room on the roster.
Dotel hasn't pitched in a game in two weeks, but didn't go on the DL until last week. What was hoped to be minor shoulder soreness lingered until the Tigers couldn't go a man short in the bullpen any longer. Jose Ortega and Luis Marte ended up in late-innings situations and struggled. Brayan Villarreal later stepped up and had an impressive stretch as the right-hander to carry leads to Joaquin Benoit.
Detroit's late-inning relief corps was briefly intact with Dotel and Phil Coke carrying leads to Benoit and then to closer Jose Valverde. A sore right wrist, however, sidelined Valverde while warming up Tuesday night.
Dotel returns just in time to face his former club. He won a World Series title with the Cardinals last fall.
Dotel owns a 1-2 record and a 4.42 ERA in 21 appearances this season with the Tigers, his 13th Major League team. Right-handed hitters are batting .184 (9-for-49) against him, with two home runs and 20 strikeouts.
Leyland looking for gritty attitude from Tigers
DETROIT -- Tigers manager Jim Leyland has said over the years that he isn't a believer in team chemistry or leaders in the clubhouse. However, he does believe in team attitude. And although the team is developing that attitude, it could still use a few more "dirtballs."
"That's a guy that does whatever it takes to win and wins at all costs under the rules," Leyland said. "They know how to win games. What people don't understand is that type of guy can hit .240 and be just as important as a guy that hits .310, because he got a squeeze down, he broke up a double play, he tagged up from first on a long fly to left-center field. Those are the dirtballs I'm talking about."
Leyland carried on with his notion of "dirtballs" at length during his pregame session with the media Tuesday. Although not wanting to give names, the skipper said he's had these role players during his tenure with the Pirates, when they won three straight division titles from 1990-92, and in '06.
"A couple of dirtballs is always good," he said. "We're going to play a team tonight that's got those, I think ... It takes more than stars. That's just the way it is."
What they also have is an edge, he said. For the skipper, playing with an edge is important, especially as the Tigers try to battle back from a sub-.500 record. He said it Tuesday and he's mentioned it several times over the past few weeks.
"We've got a bunch of great guys," Leyland said. "I wish they had a little meaner streak in them from 7-10 [p.m.] and kept their other personalities the rest of the time."
Detroit has won seven of its past 10 games and Sunday's 5-0 win against the Rockies marked three straight series victories for the first time this season. The mean streak is there, but it's still a work in progress.
"I think we've had a lot of changes," Leyland said. "We've had a lot of ups and downs. ... That's all part of it, but actually we're holding up halfway decent. But we still got to get over that hump."
Smyly anticipates coming off DL next week
DETROIT -- That huge blister Drew Smyly had on his left index finger last week isn't there anymore. Nor does the doubt that Smyly should be ready to pitch when he's eligible to come off the disabled list next week in Texas.
"I threw a bullpen [session]. It's fine," Smyly said. "It's good to go. It's just a matter of waiting to come off the DL."
He might get a rehab outing before that, if all goes well. The Tigers could send him out for a few innings of work at Triple-A Toledo on Thursday.
He's eligible to come off next Tuesday, and from what manager Jim Leyland said over the weekend, the Tigers are hoping they can pitch him that night. Jacob Turner makes his season debut Thursday, five days earlier, so Smyly could fall into that slot and bring the Tigers' rotation back to the five starters they had when the season began.
Smyly believes the hot, humid conditions in Cincinnati during his last start likely led to the blister. Temperatures are forecast to hit triple digits in Texas next week, including a high of 102 and a low of 78 next Tuesday.
Eldred granted release for Japan opportunity
DETROIT -- When Jim Leyland talked about the Tigers' pressing need for a right-handed hitter as why they called up Ryan Raburn, he said Triple-A Toledo slugger Brad Eldred was "a story for another story."
That story came Tuesday, when his split from the organization became the final. The Tigers released Eldred so he could sign a contract with the Hiroshima Toyo Carp of Japan's Central League.
Eldred made headlines with a torrid opening month in Toledo, batting .388 with 13 homers and 35 RBIs in 20 April games. That prompted the Tigers to purchase his contract April 27, after they released Brandon Inge. Manager Jim Leyland installed him as the designated hitter for three games against the Yankees, during which he went 2-for-13 with five strikeouts.
Eldred was 3-for-16 with six strikeouts when the Tigers designated him for assignment the next Friday to make room for Delmon Young's return from Major League Baseball's restricted list. Eldred accepted the assignment rather than opt for free agency, which was his right.
Since then, Eldred has a .263 batting average (41-for-156) with 11 homers and 30 RBIs in 43 games, while striking out 52 times.
"It's been great," Eldred said from Toledo on Monday night, before the move became official. "I couldn't really ask for a whole lot more -- obviously, more opportunity, whatever you want to call it. But it kind of is what it is right now."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. Anthony Odoardi is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.