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Detroit — Tigers catcher Alex Avila will start his rehab assignment with Triple A Toledo on Friday in Norfolk, Virginia.

He is expected to play eight games with Toledo as he tries to build up the stamina lost from not playing since May 7.

He's been out with bone spurs in his left knee, and the Tigers are eager to get him back.

"James McCann's done an excellent job for a first-year, full-season player. He's gonna be a very good catcher," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said before Thursday's series opener against the White Sox at Comerica Park.

"Experience is huge when it comes to that position."

The plan for Avila with Toledo is as follows: catch three-five innings Friday; DH Saturday; catch five innings Sunday; DH Monday; catch seven innings Tuesday; DH Wednesday; catch seven innings Thursday, July 2; and catch five-seven innings Friday, July 3.

The Tigers find it very important that Avila catch on back-to-back days before being activated from the disabled list.

His return could prove huge for the Tigers, even if fans don't see it that way.

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

He also bats left-handed, and the right-handed-heavy Tigers could use his lefty bat — plus the nifty on-base percentage against right-handed pitchers that goes with it.

The Tigers got Victor Martinez back last week, and that's a big help.

Avila could be the last piece to get the lineup rolling again, for good.

"Having Victor back looking the way he does certainly extends the lineup," Ausmus said. "I think Alex would be a big help, as well."

Ausmus: Castellanos will be fine

What's wrong with Nick Castellanos, whose OPS is 171 points lower than Andrew Romine's?

"I talked to him on the plane the other day going to Cleveland," Ausmus said. "Sometimes, you get paralyzed when you're trying to fix everything, you fix your hands, you fix your feet, you get paralyzed because you're thinking about everything but the one thing you should be thinking about, and that's the ball.

"I tried to tell him, 'You've always hit, let's just get back to where you were.' Just hit. Sometimes, you gotta get back to that."

Castellanos didn't start three consecutive games recently. He's started the last two games, and has two hits, including a big, two-run double in Cleveland. Ausmus said he was pleased with Castellanos' attitude during the benching, and he's been pleased with Castellanos' swings since.

"I think he's gonna be fine," Ausmus said.

Around the horn

Ausmus had no update on Justin Verlander (back), whose start was skipped Wednesday. Kyle Ryan is the projected starter for Saturday, at least as of right now.

... Reliever Bruce Rondon joined the Tigers for the first time this year, and Ausmus said he'll have no problem throwing him right into a high-leverage situation.

... Is Ausmus worried Romine might get homer happy after this hot streak? "That's why I didn't start him," Ausmus quipped. Romine had started the five games before Thursday.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/tonypaul1984

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