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Avila set to start rehab assignment

Tigers hope to have catcher back by July 4 weekend

DETROIT -- Tigers catcher Alex Avila will begin a rehab assignment on Friday with Triple-A Toledo, manager Brad Ausmus confirmed Thursday morning.

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Avila will join the Mud Hens in Norfolk and alternate games between catcher and designated hitter for a week. If all goes well, he could potentially rejoin the club for its Independence Day weekend series against Toronto.

Detroit fielded a lefty-thin lineup for the end of May and much of June. Switch-hitter Victor Martinez, who was sidelined on May 19 with left knee inflammation, returned last Friday. Avila has been on the disabled list since May 8 with a loose body in his left knee.

"We're definitely better with [Avila]-- with both of them -- than we are without him," Ausmus said.

The manager also lauded Avila's skills behind the plate, which James McCann -- who is starting consistently for the first time in his Major League career -- hasn't yet matched.

"It's hard for people to notice the preparation or the game-calling or the levity in high-stress situations that [Avila] brings to the pitchers," Ausmus said. "He's one of the better catchers in the game at blocking the ball in the dirt, which gives the pitchers confidence to throw chase pitches.

"[McCann] is going to be a very good catcher, and [Bryan Holaday] has done a good job filling in, but experience is huge when it comes to that position."

But Avila will first have to clear a number of hurdles with Toledo before he can bring his bat and defensive savvy back to the Tigers. According to Ausmus, Avila's schedule is as follows: catch 3-5 innings on Friday; DH on Saturday; catch five innings on Sunday; DH on Monday; catch seven innings on Tuesday; DH on Wednesday; catch seven innings on Thursday; and catch 5-7 innings on July 3.

Avila has batted .200 in 22 games this year, though he played through pain in many of them.

Other injury notes:

• Ausmus said Kyle Lobstein remains in Lakeland, Fla., and that his condition hasn't improved. The left-hander received a cortisone shot on June 12 to help reduce soreness in his throwing shoulder.

• Even though Kyle Ryan threw 12 pitches on Wednesday against Cleveland, the lefty is still slated to start Saturday, Ausmus said. The manager hasn't yet received an update on Justin Verlander, who missed his last scheduled start with back tightness.

• Shane Greene, who exited Sunday's start with Toledo due to a blister on his throwing hand, may not make his next scheduled start. Ausmus said that's "still up in the air."

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