DETROIT -- Infield coach Rafael Belliard sent a signal to second baseman Omar Infante when pinch-runner Josh Harrison replaced Gaby Sanchez at second base as the potential tying run on Monday.
"I told Omar to play with him," Belliard said.
In other words, he wanted Infante to sneak in for a pickoff throw sometimes, then back off at other times, and keep him guessing. Joaquin Benoit followed Infante's lead, wanting to keep Harrison close to the bag. Never did Benoit imagine he'd whirl around and find Harrison stranded so far off the base, especially after he stared him back on a previous pitch when he was too far off the bag.
"[Catcher Brayan] Pena told me he was taking a really big lead," Benoit said. "If you see the replay, I picked up, and I stopped. I was trying to get him to go back, but he was still taking that bigger lead, and I threw the ball to second."
The result was the first pickoff of Benoit's 12-year Major League career. Not even in his 55 career starts had he recorded one. Still, one spring after another, he'd practiced it.
"We practice it in Spring Training," Belliard said, "but we don't do it much."
Tigers maintaining cautious stance with Jackson
DETROIT -- Manager Jim Leyland is hopeful that Austin Jackson can close in on a rehab assignment by the end of the upcoming road trip to Pittsburgh and Baltimore.
"I'm hoping, possibly, that sometime on this trip, he can go out and get some at-bats," Leyland said, "but I can't swear to that."
Indeed, given the caution with Jackson's injured left hamstring, it seems more likely that he will begin taking batting practice on the road this week.
Jackson has not yet been cleared for full baseball activity. He's rehabbing the injury and getting treatment, and he has started throwing as well as hitting off a tee, but he hasn't been cleared to pick up his running. That, more than anything, will be the big test.
Jackson's problems, while he was trying to play through the hamstring issue, came when he had to pick up speed and sprint. The worry is that if he does that too soon, he'll make the injury worse and sideline himself longer.
"The last thing you want to do," Jackson said, "is, one day it feels really good and you get out there and try to push it and possibly re-injure it, and then we're back at step 1."
Jackson went on the 15-day disabled list just over two weeks ago. Leyland has said over the past couple of days that the Tigers have been fortunate to get the play they have out of their fill-in center fielders, a mix of super-utility man Don Kelly, five-tool prospect Avisail Garcia and fill-in leadoff man Andy Dirks.
Hunter to leave team for sons' graduation
DETROIT -- Torii Hunter has spent 18 years missing various events in his kids' lives in order to be there for his team, but his sons' graduation from high school is something he's not about to miss.
"This is just once in a lifetime," Hunter said. "I hope people forgive me for it."
Most fathers, hopefully, will understand. Considering that one of the things that drew Hunter to the Tigers this past offseason was the opportunity to be close to one son, Torii Jr., at Notre Dame, it would be difficult to fans to complain.
Hunter plans on heading home to Texas after the series finale in Pittsburgh on Thursday night. He'll miss the games on Friday and Saturday in Baltimore, then return for Sunday's series finale against the O's.
Unlike bereavements, paternity leave and family medical emergencies, there's no special list that would allow the Tigers to replace Hunter on the 25-man roster. The only Minor League outfielder on the 40-man roster at the moment is Quintin Berry, anyway. With Hunter gone for just two days, the Tigers will get by a man short.
Peralta propelling himself among the elite
DETROIT -- It might be time to stop saying that Jhonny Peralta is off to a hot start and start saying that he has the makings of a better season.
"I'm trying to react to what the pitcher is throwing me," Peralta said on Tuesday.
The way he's hitting, pitchers are guessing how to get to him.
On Monday, with his first four-hit game as a member of the Tigers, Peralta propelled himself into the mix among the best hitters in the league not named Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera is the American League batting average leader, at .377, and Peralta is now tied for second with Baltimore's Chris Davis, at .341.
Peralta entered Monday 10th in the batting race, at .326, and raised his average 15 points with his performance.
"A lot of guys are going to fly under the radar when you've got a Miguel Cabrera and a Prince Fielder," manager Jim Leyland said. "But this guy's a really good player."
Peralta hit .292 with a .743 OPS in April for the best opening month of his career, defying his history of slow starts and struggles in cold weather. More important, it set him up for May, historically his strongest month.
With four days left, though, he's hitting .400 with eight doubles, three home runs and 12 RBIs. He had better RBI production in May 2011, but in terms of pure hitting and reaching base, it's the best single month of his career.
The one difference, he believes, is that he's handling inside pitches better.
"I feel like the pitch inside, I've got a better reaction," he said.
This doesn't necessarily mean Peralta is headed for a contract-year surge. But if Memorial Day is the unofficial start of the summer, he has arguably has gotten beyond the point of a hot start.
"He's swinging a magic wand right now," teammate Torii Hunter said. "He can poke the bat out and get a hit. He can swing hard and get a hit. It's a lot of fun to play the game like that."
He might well be good enough to garner his second All-Star selection in three years. When one considers that Derek Jeter is out and Elvis Andrus' offensive numbers are a little down, Peralta might even be in position to make a case for the start.
• Jake Thompson, the Tigers' top pick in last June's First-Year Player Draft, has been promoted to Class A West Michigan to begin his 2013 season. Thompson, a second-round selection, made seven starts for the Tigers' Gulf Coast League team last summer, going 1-2 with a 1.91 ERA. He spent the last couple of months in extended spring training. Thompson is scheduled to make his first start on Friday, according to MLive.com.
• Octavio Dotel threw a side session off a mound at about 70 percent intensity, Leyland said on Tuesday. Dotel, out since late April with tendinitis in his right elbow, won't face hitters until he's throwing at full strength.