DETROIT -- Justin Verlander picked off eight baserunners as a rookie in 2006 and all but shut down the running game against him. He hasn't recorded more than three pickoffs in a season since then, largely because opponents didn't dare take an aggressive lead off first base with him on the mound.
That changed the last couple of years with teams trying to manufacture runs on him. Friday's pickoff of Royals speedster Justin Maxwell showed Verlander is quite capable of changing back.
It was Verlander's first pickoff since April 21, 2012. Opponents are 29-for-34 in steal attempts against him since then, including 15-for-17 this season, continuing a trend that began in 2010. He has overcome many of those steals the last couple of years by retiring hitters.
This year, however, the steals reached the point where manager Jim Leyland noted last month that Verlander needs to vary his timing on throwing over to first base. He varied it slightly on Friday and got a key out from it, erasing Maxwell following a leadoff single in the second inning.
"I think he hesitated a little bit," Leyland said. "Usually he throws over when he comes up, and he didn't do that right off the bat. He waited just a minute until the guy didn't think he was going to do it. He took the extra step and he got him. ...
"You have to be careful with these guys. They'll turn it into a track meet."
Verlander was fully aware of that coming in.
"You know that these guys are aggressive," Verlander said. "Especially with the number of guys that they had in the lineup today that had speed, they're probably going to try to take advantage if those guys get on. Obviously, I'm trying to limit those guys getting on base, and if they do, just try to keep them from scoring, try to be quick to the plate and try to vary my move to first base."
Tigers seeing results in Rondon's development
DETROIT -- The Tigers tried the fast track with Bruce Rondon in Spring Training and couldn't get him ready for the big leagues, let alone the closer's role. What they've done over the past month and a half since promoting him from Triple-A Toledo has been Plan B.
Slowly but surely, Rondon is maturing into a reliable Major League reliever. In the process, the Tigers are developing a potentially major piece to their late-season bullpen.
Rondon's outings have ranged from two innings in a tie game last week in Cleveland to two eighth-inning batters with a three-run lead Thursday night against the Royals. Regardless of situation, he has been effective in August, allowing four hits with two walks and eight strikeouts in eight innings. He has not been charged with a run, though he has allowed three out of five inherited runners to score.
Some of that work has come out of necessity, while other opportunities have been planned. Either way, Jose Veras' addition as a right-handed setup man has allowed manager Jim Leyland to pick and choose his spots to use Rondon. It has proven to be an easier way for Leyland to break in his hard-throwing rookie reliever than a set role, even in setup duty.
"I'm really happy with him. I think it's working, knock on wood," Leyland said. "I think the philosophy is working a little bit. We kind of broke him in and got him a little more responsibility as we go on, and I think he's responded pretty good. I'm really happy with him. …
"These things take time. You can't rush these babies. They have to crawl before they walk at this level. I think it's pretty much right on."
Through a translator, Rondon credited Leyland for showing confidence to use him in close games. He also said he has developed more confidence throwing his secondary pitches for strikes and setting up his fastball.
Improving Avila still waiting to resume activities
DETROIT -- Catcher Alex Avila spent Friday's doubleheader around the Tigers' clubhouse, his condition improved from the concussion symptoms that have sidelined him this week. However, there was no word whether he'll be cleared to resume baseball activities this weekend.
Manager Jim Leyland said after Friday's doubleheader that Avila has not yet been cleared for baseball activity.
"Not bad, but not cleared," Leyland said.
Avila has to be symptom free for at least 24 hours before he can be cleared for activity. The Tigers didn't work out on the field Friday, staying inside for the day-night doubleheader, so the issue was moot.
Avila's Kansas City counterpart, Salvador Perez, can relate. He went on the seven-day concussion disabled list last week after taking a foul tip off of his mask.
"I don't ever want to go on there again," Perez said before the Royals' 2-1 win in the opener. "You feel like you can do nothing, just waiting, waiting and waiting. It's no good."
Avila went on the DL last Sunday, so he's technically eligible to be activated in a couple of days, but there's a medical protocol set by Major League Baseball that Avila must clear in order for it to happen.
Santiago pinches Crow for another home run
DETROIT -- Ramon Santiago will always be known for hitting his first Major League home run off Pedro Martinez in 2002, but he hit his only walk-off shot off Royals reliever Aaron Crow two years ago. He can now count Crow for his first career pinch-hit homer.
Tigers manager Jim Leyland said he was aiming to give Crow a different look when he sent Santiago up to hit for Jose Iglesias leading off the eighth inning in Friday's 2-1 loss to the Royals in the opener of a day-night doubleheader. Crow had just entered for Kelvin Herrera.
Crow put Santiago in an 0-2 hole with two called strikes on the outside corner before leaving a slider up and in. Santiago turned on it and sent it out to right for the Tigers' second hit of the game and first run of the afternoon.
It marked Santiago's first home run since he took Cincinnati's Bronson Arroyo deep on June 9, 2012, at Great American Ball Park. His only other home run last year was a shot down the left-field line off the Yankees' CC Sabathia on June 1.
Santiago became the first player with two career home runs off of Crow, who in turn became the third Major League pitcher to give up two homers to Santiago. Scott Kazmir and Gavin Floyd are the others.
KC's Butler singles out Verlander during ABs
DETROIT -- Justin Verlander's season has had plenty of ups and downs. Billy Butler's success off of him, though, is a constant.
The Royals designated hitter lined two more singles off Verlander in a 2-1 win over the Tigers in Friday afternoon's opener of a day-night doubleheader, improving to 27-for-62 (.435) for his career against the Tigers ace. His only out was a well-struck line out to right field. Just two other hitters with at least 50 plate appearances against Verlander are batting at least .300 against him: Joe Mauer (23-for-62, .371), Ichiro Suzuki (20-for-65, .308).
Verlander seemingly had figured out Butler for a couple years, holding him to 3-for-13 from 2010-11. He's 13-for-23 since, all of the hits singles. The saving grace for Verlander is that Butler has just two career homers off of him.
"I didn't throw him very good pitches [Friday], but obviously he puts good swings on my pitches," Verlander said. "But here's a guy with nobody on, he hits a single and it's probably going to take either a single and a double or three hits to score him. He's not the fleetest afoot. He's not going to steal a base. It's not the end-all be-all, and most of his hits off me have been singles."
Tigers post traffic advisory for Saturday events
DETROIT -- It will be a busy day downtown on Saturday as the Tigers have another American League Central clash against the Royals in the evening at Comerica Park in addition to a Kenny Chesney concert scheduled to take place across the way at Ford Field.
Olympia Development Parking Services is holding all of the lots it controls east of Woodward Avenue for fans attending the Tigers game. Guests must show a ticket, parking pass or have tickets at Will Call to park in those lots. Tailgating will be prohibited to ensure ample parking.
The concert begins at 4:30 p.m. ET, so the Tigers urge fans to plan accordingly for heavy traffic in the area.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. Bobby Nightengale is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.