DETROIT — As a catcher and manager, Brad Ausmus has worked with a lot of great pitchers in more than 20 years in the professional game.
That didn’t prepare him for what happened Tuesday afternoon.
Hours before the game against Chicago, Ausmus found himself on the field with two of the best players in baseball — defending AL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer and two-time defending AL MVP Miguel Cabrera — hitting ground balls.
Scherzer had become concerned about a very specific play: a slow grounder hit between the mound and first, where the pitcher has to race past the charging first baseman and take a throw over his shoulder — almost like an NFL wide receiver hauling in a pass.
So on a cool April afternoon, Ausmus was hitting baseballs very slowing to a very specific location and watching players with nine-figure contracts choreograph a dance that they might use a couple times all season.
"I’ve never seen a pitcher ask to work on that, and certainly not a Cy Young Award winner," Ausmus said before the game. "And he and Miggy wanted to work on it together, so I ended out there helping.
"It is really impressive to me that two players like that care that much about a play that you might only see six times a season. That says a lot about their work ethic."
And if one of those six times comes at a key moment in October?
"I’m sure they will both remind me that we had been out here in April."
AGGRESSIVE, AGGRESSIVE, AGGRESSIVE
A lot of Tigers fans groaned when Alex Avila grounded out with the bases loaded and no one out in Monday’s second inning. It seemed like a bad play because the usually patient Avila swung at the first pitch, even though Chicago starter John Danks had just walked the last two hitters.
Ausmus, however, backed Avila’s decision 100 percent.
"When you’ve got the bases loaded, the first pitch is quite possibly going to be the best pitch to hit in the entire at-bat, so you don’t want to be back on your heels, taking all the way," Ausmus said. "If he gives you a pitch to hit and you rip it into the gap, that’s three runs and it changes the entire game."
Ausmus said the thinking might have been different if another pitcher had been on the mound, but he wanted Avila to go after a veteran like Danks.
"Danks isn’t making his first start or anything," Ausmus said. "If you had a situation where a guy might be rattled for some reason, then you would want to make him throw a strike. But against a good pitcher, you have to go after him."
AROUND THE HORN: With Austin Jackson getting a scheduled day off, J.D. Martinez will make his first start as a Tiger. Martinez is playing left field and hitting sixth, with Rajai Davis moving to center field in place of Jackson. Ausmus confirmed that this was a planned day off for Jackson, and that he’ll be available in late-inning situations and back in the lineup Wednesday against the White Sox. … The Tigers are facing rookie lefty Charlie Leesman on Tuesday instead of White Sox ace Chris Sale, who went on the disabled list Monday with an elbow problem. Leesman pitched eight times for the White Sox last season, posting a 7.04 ERA.