5/3/13: Avila's ninth-inning homer buries the Astros

HOUSTON -- Playing the Houston Astros is no layup according to Detroit manager Jim Leyland, heading into Saturday night's game at Minute Maid Park.

The Tigers won the first two games of the four-game series. Thursday night's game went 14 innings before Detroit prevailed 7-3, and Friday night the Tigers needed a two-run homer by Alex Avila in the top of the ninth for a comeback 4-3 win.

"They're throwing pretty good pitchers at us and we're going to see another one tonight [Lucas Harrell]," Leyland said of the Astros. "They're hungry, most of them are young and they've got good pitching. That's the common denominator which changes everything."

The Tigers struck out 18 times in the 14-inning game.

With an 8-22 record, Houston doesn't look good in the standings, tied with Miami for the worst record in the Majors. The Astros are already 10 1/2 games out of first place in the American League West.

Don't think playing Houston is an easy assignment.

"It doesn't work that way," said Leyland. "People see a record and they think [they're easy]. They've played their tails off against us."

The Astros are the youngest team in the Major Leagues, with an average age of just over 27.

"Teams like this, you've got guys trying to stabilize the team a little bit and still try to hang on," Leyland said. "Then you've got the young prospects who are out to show they belong here. They'll catch up."

First baseman Carlos Pena and right fielder Rick Ankiel are the veterans on Houston. But the team features more young players, such as 23-year-old outfielder Robbie Grossman, 23-year-old third baseman Matt Dominguez and 22-year-old right-hander Jordan Lyles, who started Thursday's game.

"If anybody's got prospects who are the real deal, in time they'll catch up," Leyland said. "They'll go through some growing pains in the process. That's the way it is with everything."

Prince looking for a pitch to drive, taking walks

MIN@DET: Prince crushes a two-run homer to right

HOUSTON -- Detroit's Prince Fielder saw exactly four strikes in his four plate appearances Friday night at Houston, walking three times.

Fielder entered Saturday leading the American League in walks with 24, four ahead of second-place Lance Berkman of Texas.

"I'm just trying to get a good pitch," said Fielder, showing no displeasure at how opponents are pitching around him. "It's part of the game. Its part of hitting -- walks, hits, trying to help the team. It's no different than a single."

Fielder has learned to be more selective over the years. He walked over 100 times in each of his last three years in Milwaukee, 2009-11.

"That comes from getting a little more mature, knowing yourself and knowing what you can actually hit without making an out," he said. "There's certain pitches I know I can't hit, whether it's a strike or not. I try to wait for a pitch I know I can hit hard."

Manager Jim Leyland praised Fielder for his patience at the plate.

"Most people try to get good hitters out on balls," Leyland said. "You can't lose your patience. You can expand your zone, but you can't expand it too much or you're going to make outs. You swing at strikes, you get hits, you swing at balls, you make outs. It's that simple. "[Fielder's] a very patient guy and he's done a good job of that. Very rarely does he expand to swing [at balls]. That's smart. He's got a pretty good hitter behind him."

That would be veteran designated hitter Victor Martinez.

In Thursday night's 14-inning game, Austin Jackson doubled to lead off the 14th. Torii Hunter moved him to third, and the Astros walked Miguel Cabrera intentionally to set up a double play.

That brought Fielder to the plate, but the Astros walked him, too, to load the bases. Fielder was a little surprised he was walked intentionally.

"Thankfully they did and [Don Kelly] got the job done," Fielder said of Kelly, who singled in the go-ahead run. "So it worked out."

Fielder said the walks are not part of his game plan.

"I'm not going for the walk at all," he said. "The more aggressive you are, the better you see the ball. They might throw strikes, but I'm still waiting on the strike I can hit.

"I never swung at a lot of bad pitches coming up," he said of his days in the Minors. "Pitchers didn't know me yet, so they gave me more what I wanted to swing at. When you get up to the big leagues, the pitchers are different."

Jackson returns to lineup after most of day off

ATL@DET: Jackson's three-run homer puts Tigers on top

HOUSTON -- Detroit's Austin Jackson was back in his familiar place for Saturday night's game at Houston, playing center field and batting leadoff. Manager Jim Leyland gave Jackson a day off Friday night. Jackson, who did enter the game as a defensive replacement in the bottom of the ninth, had started all of the Tigers' first 27 games before Friday.

"I definitely like a day off," he said. "It gives me a chance to recuperate a little bit."

Jackson has been bothered slightly by a sore left hamstring.

"You get a chance to get a full day of work on it," he said of the hamstring. "Give it a break for a day. It definitely helped. It's kind of tough to work on it when you're playing every day.

"It's not bad. It's just something that bothered me a little bit. It's fine. I have to make sure I get it loose and stretch it out."

The day off for Jackson probably came at a good time following Thursday night's 14-inning, 7-3 victory. Jackson led off the 14th with a double and scored the go-ahead run.

"Those games are tough," he said. "You get in those situations, it helps to get that win after playing that long. We've been on the other side of that as well, so it definitely helps [when you win]. You're just happy when it's over, and if you have a win, it's a plus."

Detroit is 2-3 in extra-inning games this year, with four of them lasting 12 innings or longer.