The Tigers already had a replacement for Jhonny Peralta at shortstop. It turns out they might already have a replacement for his bat, too.
Peralta was among 12 players who accepted a 50-game suspension from Major League Baseball Monday due to his connection to the Biogenesis Clinic.
Last week the Tigers acquired slick-fielding shortstop/third baseman Jose Iglesias, 23, to protect themselves for this situation.
Although Iglesias was batting .330 for the Boston Red Sox, manager Jim Leyland said it was unrealistic to expect that to continue.
Peralta, who made the All-Star team this season, was batting a career-best .305 with 11 home runs and 54 RBIs, similar to his 2011 All-Star year in which he hit .299 with 21 home runs and 86 RBIs.
Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski acknowledged before Monday’s game that the offense might have a drop-off without Peralta.
“He’s a good player, there’s no question about it,” Dombrowski told reporters in Cleveland. “You’ll miss his performance but we also have another good player, Jose Iglesias, that can play shortstop for us. It’s a little bit different type of look. You’ve got somebody that’s got a little more range, a little more from a defensive perspective, he runs better.
“He’s not going to hit the ball out of the ballpark like Jhonny. I guess there’s all different ways you try to win. We’re going to try to win in a different fashion. There’s no question you’re not going to have the same offense at the shortstop position but maybe you make up for that in other ways.”
While Iglesias locks down the defense at shortstop, it will be up to the rest of the Tigers to account for the missing offense.
One possible source would have seemed highly unlikely just a month ago.
But catcher Alex Avila stepped up in the ninth inning Monday and hit a three-run home run off Cleveland Indians closer Chris Perez to deliver a 4-2 victory, the Tigers’ ninth straight.
“He was struggling a little bit with his command,” Avila told FOX Sports Detroit’s John Keating on the field after the game. “After he fell behind 1-0, I figured I’m gonna get a fastball here somewhere in the strike zone, just put a good swing on it.”
The celebration that ensued in the dugout was worthy of a postseason game or a walk-off win. Prince Fielder picked up Victor Martinez and players were jumping up and down.
“Oh, man, it was like the 40-40 (club) in New York, you ever heard of that?” Torii Hunter told Keating. “It was awesome. We went crazy in that clubhouse. It seemed like it was music going and everything, we were pumped up, screaming, pulling each other’s hair. I don’t know why we were pulling hair. They pulled my hair and I don’t even have any. It was a lot of fun in the clubhouse. Alex Avila, he started it off for us.”
In his last 11 games, Avila is batting .325 with three home runs and 15 RBIs.
Avila only had five home runs and 13 RBIs for the first three months of the season (including missing the second half of June on the DL).
“He’s been producing a little bit since he came back, to be honest with you,” Leyland told Keating on the post-game show. “Because he’s been hitting the ball in the gap, he hit a double the other day, yesterday I guess it was, a big double for us.
“Then a big home run tonight, so he’s producing and that’s the kind of hitter we need him to be for us because two-out singles or stuff like that, with him it really doesn’t do you any good because he can’t steal a base, he can’t score from first, so him being a productive hitter is really beneficial to us and he’s been very productive lately.”
Avila was also an All-Star in 2011, when he hit .295 with 19 home runs and 82 RBIs.
Although Avila isn’t likely to reproduce those numbers, if he can contribute the way he has the last couple of weeks, the offense might not suffer as much as people thought.