DETROIT — During spring training, Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus mentioned how critically important it would be to have catcher Alex Avila and center fielder Austin Jackson contribute their fair share offensively. Both were coming of subpar hitting seasons, but had shown significant prowess with the bat earlier in their careers.
Jackson, after hitting .307 through April, has dropped to .252 and has only three RBI in 15 games in June. He has just three homers and 20 RBIs overall.
Avila is batting .217 with 11 doubles, four homers and 14 RBI. Though, his .347 on-base percentage is higher than the majority of the starting lineup. It’s higher than those of right fielder Torii Hunter (.290) third baseman Nick Castellanos (.305), Jackson (.317), second baseman Ian Kinsler (.321) and left fielder Rajai Davis (.330).
So, Ausmus said playing Bryan Holaday (.305 batting average, .333 on-base percentage) more at catcher and having Davis (.284, 20 steals, four homers, 21 RBIs) play some in center with J.D. Martinez (.299, five homers, 21 RBIs) playing left has been discussed.
"There’s ways of shifting out there," Ausmus said, "and with J.D. swinging the bat that way we are going to have to figure out a way to get him in the lineup."
Martinez, batting .419 with seven RBI on his current eight-game hitting streak, has significant production for someone with only 93 at-bats. Detroit has six regulars already well over 200 at-bats. Martinez will start in right field until Hunter’s right hamstring heals.
Avila has played through several injuries to play in 55 of 68 games.
"Alex, I think is fine," Ausmus said. "He’s caught quite a bit and has taken some shots back there. He says he’s fine. But he’s not playing (Thursday). It gives him a day off. We’re talking about is he playing too much. Do we need to play Holaday?"
Detroit is in a 9-20 rut and has fallen out of first place.
"Can we mix the lineup?" Ausmus asked, rhetorically. "Can we do something to make this click?"
Ausmus said he discusses these matters daily with his coaching staff, and has considered having the slumping hitters "back off" on their workaholic tendencies with batting practice. But he said it’s difficult to keep players from working hard at their craft, noting that the "effort and concentration" of this team is excellent.
No matter what Ausmus does, though, he’ll be careful to stay away from radical moves.
"Players see drastic change as panic," Ausmus said, "and they don’t respond well to panic. A panicking manager does not come across well."