Tigers Relying on Rookies More Than Ever

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DETROIT (AP) -- What began as a season studded with stars has turned into a steady cycle of calling up and sending down young players from the Tigers' farm system.
Whether it's due to injury or poor performance, Detroit has had to rely on relative unknowns, to mixed results.
There was Matt Joyce's game-tying two-run homer in a come-from-behind victory against the Cleveland Indians on July 9. And then a day later there was his key fielding error that helped the Minnesota Twins overcome a two-run deficit in the top of the ninth and his inability to get down a sacrifice bunt in the bottom of the inning.
Clete Thomas was the hero on June 26 when he drew a bases-loaded walk to give the Tigers a win over St. Louis in extra innings. But he also struck out to end an 11-inning game against Minnesota on July 10.
"I think they're doing OK," manager Jim Leyland said of the youngsters. "You can't expect them to come up here and tear this league up. It's a pretty tough league."
Leyland probably didn't expect them to come up this fast -- if at all. The Tigers began the season with a lineup featuring seven All-Stars with established players at each position. The team added proven players Miguel Cabrera, Edgar Renteria, Dontrelle Willis and Jacque Jones during the winter.
Jones was cut early in the season with a .165 average. After giving up 21 walks in five appearances, Willis was sent down to the spring training complex to regain his form.
And with a clubhouse that never seems to be completely healthy, the young guys have had to step up.
"When you contribute, especially to winning, you feel like you belong and you feel like you're helping out the club and helping out the team," Joyce said. "You never really like to struggle. It makes things a lot more difficult and frustrating."
Joyce, an outfielder and the reigning AL player of the week, is hitting .266 with nine home runs and 18 RBI in 31 games this season.
It has been a bit of an adjustment to leave the minors, he said.
"(There's) a lot more exposure, which kind of adds some pressure, but at the same time, you kind of have to forget that and go out there and do your job," Joyce said. "The game, overall, doesn't change. You're still playing baseball."
Joyce, 23, said it's helped him to be surrounded by former teammates from his days in the minor leagues, including Thomas, Jeff Larish, Michael Hollimon and Eddie Bonine.
"We've gotten to know each other and become good teammates and have pulled for each other," Joyce said. "So to go through this and experience it together has been pretty cool."
Thomas, a 24-year-old outfielder who is hitting .284 in 40 games with the big-league club, said the youngsters are trying to prove themselves.
"We're just doing anything we can to help the team," he said. "We're all good players, and we're showing everybody that we can play here."
Thomas said his highlights in the majors include his first hit and the game-winning walk.
"Just being here has been a great experience," he said.
Leyland said it's important to give the younger players a chance in the majors.
"There's nothing like gaining some experience and seeing what it's like up here," he said.
In fact, it's part of Leyland's philosophy to get as many players into the game as possible.
"I just think that everybody's got to have a chance to be a hero," he said.

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