Concerned about the Astros?

LAKELAND, FL Tigers manager Jim Leyland abruptly ended a session with reporters, Houston manager Cecil Cooper expressed frustration over his team's play, and Detroit pitcher Justin Verlander had little positive to say after his final start before the Tigers open the season Monday at home against Kansas City.

The most excited person in Lakeland might have been Brandon Inge, told he would start in center field for the Tigers on opening day after incumbent Curtis Granderson broke a bone in his right hand recently. Granderson will miss the first two weeks of the season.

It was a reprieve for Inge, who was on the trading block after losing his third base job to newcomer Miguel Cabrera. Acquired from Florida in a December trade, Cabrera finalized a $152.3 million, eight-year contract with Detroit on Tuesday, the fourth-largest package among current major leaguers.

Inge was notified that the center field job is his temporarily. He had played five positions this spring in hopes of filling any hole in the lineup, including several games in center. Leyland said he was comfortable with Inge filling in, even thought it doesn't mean he'll definitely stick around.

"I am just going to do whatever they ask me to do," Inge said. "I always said that I won't complain and I will give it everything I have. If they want me to play center, I will play center. I never want to cause trouble. I just want to play."

Another candidate for the center field job was Ryan Raburn, but he was hit in the chest by a pitch from Astros reliever Chad Paronto. Leyland said Raburn was hurting badly.

As for Verlander, Monday will be his first career opening-day start, but he allowed eight hits, two walks and six runs -- five earned -- in three innings against the Astros while throwing 80 pitches. His spring ERA is 5.85.

"I am just working on some things, but the results just weren't that great," Verlander said. "I know it was just a tuneup, but I've been getting it up in the zone. I have had good stuff this spring and the good news is that it's just spring training. In spring training you have to have a short-term memory."

Verlander will throw a bullpen session Thursday in his final test before the opener.

"This is just about getting my arm ready," he said. "It might not even be ready by midseason. That's why they call it midseason."

Leyland said he wasn't concerned.

"I'm not worried about Justin," the manager said. "He just has to work harder to keep the ball down. He got all out of sync and he never got back into it. He got radar gun conscious and he started to feel all macho."

One problem Leyland acknowledged was Tim Byrdak, one of his lefties out of the bullpen. Byrdak pitched to five batters in the ninth, walking four and allowing one hit. His spring ERA is 13.50, and Leyland got testy when asked if Byrdak was a lock to make it out of spring training.

"He's on the team isn't he?" Leyland asked. "Everybody in here is on the team right now. He is pressing, but he is on the team. Do I know who our 25th player is right now? Nobody here knows who it is. Is Byrdak on the team now? Yes."

With that, Leyland ended the session.

Cooper wasn't in a jovial mood, either. The Astros are 12-14 this spring, but Cooper said the team is weak on fundamentals. On one rundown play, the Astros made three throws that weren't to Cooper's liking and he said that would all change by Wednesday.

"You better believe that I am down in the dumps after that," Cooper said. "It's getting disgusting, disgusting. We are veterans on this team. We are better than this. This is the time we should be seeing veteran plays. We aren't a bunch of young guys and it is getting ridiculous."

Cooper said his team had a week to show him they could play, or else.

"Three bad throws on a rundown?" Cooper asked incredulously. "I don't care what happens (Wednesday). All we will work on are rundowns. Even if that means no hitting or pitching."

Ivan Rodriguez hit his Grapefruit League-leading eighth homer for the Tigers.

Hunter Pence had three hits for Houston.

Notes: Astros pitcher Chris Sampson was hit in the right hip by Carlos Guillen's line drive, but stayed in the game. ... The Tigers sent Francis Beltran and Timo Perez to minor league camp.

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