Tigers ready to move on without DH Martinez
At this time last year, Tigers manager Jim Leyland was telling reporters that the middle of his lineup was set ''in stone'' - with new designated hitter Victor Martinez in the No. 5 spot.
Now Leyland's batting order is a lot less certain. After an excellent first season in Detroit, Martinez tore the ACL in his left knee last week during offseason conditioning, and the Tigers are considering their options with spring training set to start in about a month.
''I wrote down several lineups already since this happened,'' Leyland said. ''But there's also a blank spot in the lineup. Whatever spot it may be, there's also a blank spot, because somebody's got to DH.''
Leyland was relatively at ease Thursday during the Tigers' winter caravan. Detroit announced Martinez's injury Tuesday, so the team has had a chance to reflect on the news. He could miss the entire season.
Detroit won the AL Central by 15 games last year and reached the AL championship series behind Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera and Martinez. The team has been quiet this offseason, but now the Tigers must scramble a bit. Martinez hit .330 with 103 RBIs in 2011, and that production won't be easy to replace.
''I think we'll have somebody, either internally or externally, by opening day,'' Leyland said. ''The only blessing to this whole thing is we've got 10 weeks to rectify the problem.''
Martinez signed a $50 million, four-year contract with Detroit before last season, and Leyland couldn't wait to put him right behind Cabrera in the lineup. The two formed a powerful pair, but Cabrera - the slugging first baseman - downplayed the importance of having another big bat immediately after him in the order.
''We've got a great organization. We've got a great manager. I think they'll figure out what they're going to do,'' Cabrera said. ''I don't worry about who's going to hit behind me, who's going to hit in front of me.''
Martinez was signed to be the team's DH and also catch occasionally, but injury problems late last season made it hard for him to play the field. Detroit acquired Gerald Laird in the offseason to back up starting catcher Alex Avila, but now the switch-hitting Martinez's bat is out of the picture for the foreseeable future.
''I was about as shocked as everybody else was. It's an injury, it happens in this game a lot,'' Avila said. ''A lot of teams every year go through injuries that they have to kind of get through as a team.''
Leyland sounded open to a number of possible solutions, although he didn't want to discuss too many specifics. Because they're replacing a DH, the Tigers can be flexible, either acquiring someone for that spot or bringing someone in to play the field and moving somebody else to DH.
''It depends on who the guy is,'' Leyland said. ''Is the guy really a full-time DH? Is he a part-time player, part-time DH? Is he a guy you can play in the field? Does it mean you can make some adjustments and give guys a little more rest?''
The Tigers re-signed outfielder Delmon Young on Tuesday after trading for him in August, and outfielder Brennan Boesch is back after hitting .283 with 16 home runs in 115 games last year. The 26-year-old Boesch hurt his right thumb and had to miss the end of the season - and Leyland doesn't seem eager to change his role much, in the field or in the batting order.
''I don't really want Boesch to be a DH,'' Leyland said. ''Boesch is coming back off the thumb and everything and I don't want him to start worrying right now about, `Oh my God, I'm behind Cabrera again, I've got to protect Cabrera.'''
Leyland expects pitching to be a strength. Verlander won the Cy Young Award and MVP last year, and Detroit will now have a full season of Doug Fister. The Tigers acquired Fister in the middle of last season, and he went 8-1 with a 1.79 ERA after joining Detroit.
''There's no question about it. We've got a good team,'' Leyland said. ''We're going to be starting the season this year with Delmon Young and Fister. They're going to be here from the get-go this time. After we got them last year, we really went on a roll. Obviously, Victor was a big part of that as well, but we're pretty good.''