CHICAGO -- Brayan Pena was aware in Spring Training that he was in rare company in a Tigers clubhouse that houses multiple Gold Glovers, Silver Sluggers and a Triple Crown winner.
The backup catcher -- now thrust into the starting role while Alex Avila recovers from delayed concussive symptoms -- admittedly acted like a youngster this spring around guys like Torii Hunter, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder when they talked about hitting.
"I was one of those guys, like a rookie, just listening to the big boys' talks and just soak it in and steal some ideas from them," Pena said before Wednesday's series finale against the White Sox, which his backup, Bryan Holaday, started. "So I got to grow right next to them, and I started opening up a little bit more and asking questions. They really helped me a lot."
Indeed it is. The 31-year-old Pena, who is in his ninth big league season and first with the Tigers, is having a carer year, hitting .306 with four home runs, eight doubles and 20 RBIs in 50 games. He's already two homers, three doubles and five RBIs shy of matching his career highs.
Pena entered 2013 with a .248/.286/.350 career line. He entered Wednesday batting .306/.332/.422 on the year.
The biggest reason for Pena's improvement? Hunter, Cabrera and Fielder, who Pena said encouraged him to focus on executing a game plan at the plate.
"I've got to give them a lot of credit, because they really helped me with my mental approach at home plate," Pena said.
They've also provided Pena with a fan-like experience in his first season with Detroit.
"Those guys, they're All-Stars," Pena said. "You don't have the opportunity to see that many All-Stars in one lineup. They've all been great, great players in their years in this league, and for us, especially for me, to be right next to them, day in and day out, man, it's unbelievable."
Cabrera playing through abdominal pain
CHICAGO -- Plenty of adjectives have been used to describe Miguel Cabrera throughout his career, especially over the last 1 1/2 seasons.
The best way to describe him on Wednesday? Some combination of unbelievable/amazing/incredible, sure.
But also gimpy.
"No, he's not OK," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said Wednesday morning when asked about Cabrera, who was in the lineup despite being seen hobbling in the 11th inning of Tuesday's 4-3 loss to the White Sox.
Cabrera has been slowed by an abdominal strain for about three weeks, a span in which he's missed seven games.
He came up lame on Tuesday after lining a drive off White Sox reliever Addison Reed and being thrown out at first while trying to slide. Cabrera injured a shin on the play -- not aggravating his abdominal issue -- but Leyland said he didn't have any issue with the slide, calling it "a reaction to try to win a game."
Cabrera is the biggest name, but is just one of a handful of Tigers dealing with the usual nicks that accompany the season's dog days.
"This has been a tough stretch, a tough grind," said Leyland, whose team concluded a 10-game road trip on Wednesday. "They're tough, they go at it, they give you everything they've got. I couldn't be happier with them. We've got a lot of guys visibly you can see are hurting a little bit."
Despite the pain, Cabrera is still hitting. He smacked his 38th home run of the season in Wednesday's 6-4 win over the White Sox, a three-run shot to tie the game, and finished the 10-game road trip with six homers and 15 RBIs.
Bonderman takes blame for extra-inning loss
CHICAGO -- Reliever Jeremy Bonderman manned up on Tuesday night, taking responsibility for Detroit's 4-3 extra-inning loss to the White Sox.
"You can't afford to put guys on base and give them free passes. It's my fault," Bonderman said after walking two in the 11th inning.
It was an admirable thing, Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. But it wasn't necessary.
"I read his comment in the paper this morning. I didn't like them," Leyland said before Wednesday's game. "Because it wasn't his fault. He walked a guy and made a throw, that's nobody's fault. He doesn't have to feel bad about that."
Leyland is well known for standing up for his players. He said Bonderman's mistakes -- which included a high throw on a sacrifice bunt -- were the human part of the game.
He likened Bonderman's inability to get out of Tuesday's inning to a batter failing to get a hit with runners in scoring position -- and the Tigers have only two hits in their last 21 at-bats with men in scoring position in their two games against the White Sox.
In Wednesday's 6-4 win over Chicago, they were 2-for-8 with men in scoring position.
"You don't always get the hits. We've had a couple things happen lately that during our 12-game winning streak went exactly for us," Leyland said. "Ball hits off the pitcher's foot and went into the outfield for a hit.
"[Miguel Cabrera ] almost kills two pitchers last night, didn't get anything out of it. That's just part of it. When you're going good, that ball goes through. And when you don't win a game, or you struggle for a couple days, things like that happen. That's all part of the game."
• The Tigers have yet to officially announce a starter for the second game of Friday's doubleheader against the Royals. Left-hander Jose Alvarez, who has started four times for Detroit this season, is likely to be recalled from Triple-A Toledo as the club's designated 26th man allowed for doubleheaders. He is 1-2 with a 5.03 ERA in his four outings.
• Victor Martinez (12-for-30) and Fielder (11-for-34) entered Wednesday's finale riding seven-game hitting streaks. Both went 1-for-4 to extend their streaks to eight.
• The official scorer overruled his previous call on Omar Infante's grounder up the middle in Tuesday's eighth inning and instead awarded Infante a single. It was originally called an error on White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez.