Swelling down, Hunter expects to return Sunday

Swelling down, Hunter expects to return Sunday

PITTSBURGH -- Torii Hunter said the swelling in his left elbow has improved since he was hit by a pitch during the seventh inning of the Tigers' 5-3 loss to the Pirates on Wednesday night. It was enough that if Hunter absolutely needed to be in the lineup, he might have given it a try.

"If this was September, I'd strap it on," Hunter said.

For an Interleague game at the end of May, however, caution prevailed. Hunter wasn't in Thursday's starting lineup against the Bucs. Tacked on to his absence Friday and Saturday for his kids' graduation, and Hunter will have three days to let the swelling run its course.

"I think I'll be ready to play Sunday," Hunter said. "There's no doubt about it."

Manager Jim Leyland said he was "hopeful" Hunter would be ready, but wouldn't commit to it.

With Hunter out, Andy Dirks started against Jeff Locke, his first start against a left-handed pitcher this season.

Leyland ruled Hunter out of pinch-hitting. With one less player on the bench, Leyland said he'd have to use his pinch-hitters carefully in Thursday's series finale. The Tigers get their designated-hitter slot back in Baltimore, so Friday and Saturday should be easier on them from a depth standpoint.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.