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Improving Avila on verge of rejoining Tigers

DETROIT -- Catcher Alex Avila will serve as the designated hitter on Thursday night for Triple-A Toledo, likely setting up a return to the Tigers for this weekend's series against the Blue Jays at Comerica Park.

But on Thursday afternoon, Tigers manager Brad Ausmus remained mum about the organization's plans for the veteran catcher, who has been on the disabled list since May 8 with loose bodies in his left knee.

"He's DH-ing tonight," Ausmus said when asked whether Avila would be starting for the Tigers on Friday.

Regardless of when Avila rejoins the Major League club, the catcher's rehabilitation has gone better than expected. The Tigers had initially feared that Avila would need surgery, but he instead opted for a treatment program after receiving a third opinion from doctors. Then, after catching on Sunday, as planned, he felt well enough to do so again on Monday.

Avila, who has been splitting time at DH and behind the plate with the Mud Hens, entered Thursday's game 5-for-16 with four RBIs and five strikeouts in five games. Ausmus maintains, though, that the catcher's defensive ability will have a greater impact when he returns to Detroit.

"The experience behind the plate is probably as important -- maybe more important -- than the left-handed bat," Ausmus said. "Now, don't get me wrong, I like having his left-handed bat in there. He has power. But it's the experience, I think, that -- although you can't really put a number on it -- is more valuable."

Avila's absence has given James McCann a chance to shine during his first consistent playing time in the big leagues. The 25-year-old is batting .268 with four home runs -- two of the walk-off variety -- and has thrown out 48.1 percent of would-be basestealers.

"I think he's done really well," Ausmus said. "I think he's done better than we could have expected under the circumstances -- under any circumstances, really."

Organizational updates

• Toledo released outfielder Xavier Avery following Wednesday's game. Avery, who was batting .305 in Triple-A and had a 13-game hitting streak, likely exercised his July 1 opt-out clause.

• Outfielder Tyler Collins, who hit .275 in 18 games with the Tigers this year, was placed on the disabled list by the Mud Hens on Thursday afternoon.

Alejandro Zúñiga is an associate reporter for Follow him on Twitter @ByAZuniga.
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