4/16/2014 8:54 P.M. ET
Getting Avila hot is crucial for Tigers' lineup
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
DETROIT -- The Tigers returned to the comforts of their American League lineup Wednesday, designated-hitter spot and all, which meant moves up in the order for Ian Kinsler, Torii Hunter, Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez. It did nothing for catcher Alex Avila, who remains in the seventh spot as he tries to work his way out of his rough start.
It's nothing new for Avila, who hit .183 (13-for-71) last April on his way to a .177 first half, and .220 (13-for-59) in April 2012. At 3-for-23 with 14 strikeouts, though, it's a rougher start than he had through eight games of those previous seasons.
The slump has countered what manager Brad Ausmus said has been an excellent effort behind the plate, notably in terms of calling games.
"He's done an excellent job behind the plate calling the game. He's a smart catcher," Ausmus said. "That's hugely important at the Major League level, especially over the long haul. He's scuffled a little bit with the bat.
"He's obviously a much better hitter than he's shown so far, so we're hoping he can snap back into some better at-bats. But his defense, really his game-calling, has been outstanding."
Avila's approach has been somewhat different, even if the numbers so far are similar. He has been more aggressive at the plate early in counts, swinging at 14 out of 30 first pitches, according to STATS. He has put just five of those pitches in play, though, resulting in two of his hits, two outs and a sacrifice bunt.
It's a small sample size, but Avila's rate for previous seasons has been about a third or less.
Ausmus said aggressiveness has to be situational.
"There's times to be aggressive," he said, "and there's times to be a little bit more passive. With men on base, men in scoring position, that's obviously a time to be more aggressive, because it might be the one pitch you get to drive and drive the runner in. But it varies from at-bat to at-bat. There are other times you prefer hitters to be more selective."
Avila's drop to the seventh spot in recent days coincides with the rise of Nick Castellanos. When the season began, Ausmus didn't want to put his rookie third baseman in a high-pressure spot, keeping him more in the bottom third of the lineup.
"I don't want to throw Nick in the heart of the lineup," Ausmus said, "but I just think Nick's handled himself pretty well, so I don't feel as uncomfortable putting him in the sixth spot."
There's a vested interest in getting Avila's offense turnaround, beyond simply getting production out of the catcher's spot. Avila's slump coincides with the Tigers' struggles with a righty-lefty balance in their lineup. The only other left-handed batter in Wednesday's lineup was switch-hitting designated hitter Martinez.
The Tigers have left-handed bats on their bench, including Don Kelly and Tyler Collins, but an Avila turnaround would by far have a greater impact on the lineup.
"He would be a huge asset if we could get Alex hot with the bat," Ausmus said. "He will get hot with the bat at some point. We're hoping it's sooner than later, though we have a stretch I think of five lefties in six days coming up pitching against us. …
"He's important offensively. As much as the defense of the catcher and the game-calling of the catcher adds to the team's success, we need Alex to swing the bat."
Miggy aims to get back to all-fields approach
DETROIT -- Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera said Wednesday he's feeling more comfortable with the adjustments he has been making to get back to his all-fields approach at the plate. It didn't yield him any hits in the spacious right field of Petco Park. He's hoping it brings better results back in Comerica Park.
"I feel better," Cabrera said. "Got to get back."
He's trying to get back to the one-handed finish to his swing that produced a lot of his opposite-field hits. Cabrera had gotten into a two-handed follow through last year during his injuries, and it left him pulling more pitches this season.
Cabrera says he feels healthy now, but he's still trying to get back to the healthy swing.
"The last two series, Dodgers and San Diego, they give me good pitches to hit," he said. "The last two games I feel better."
Cabrera had a well-hit ball to the opposite field in each of those two games after not hitting a ball to right field with authority for about a week.
Though Cabrera feels healthy, he said he has a daily regimen of core exercises that he has to do to stay that way after core muscle surgery last fall.
"I think after the season, I'll be able to go to the beach with no T-shirt," Cabrera joked.
Smyly set to face Angels in his first start of '14
DETROIT -- Tigers left-hander Drew Smyly's first start of the season is now set for Friday's series opener against the Angels.
Smyly was originally slated to face the Indians on Wednesday, but Tuesday's postponement pushed Anibal Sanchez to that game and forced Smyly to be pushed back yet again. Unlike the rainout against the Royals last homestand, which knocked Smyly out of the rotation for more than a week, the difference this time is just a couple of days.
The difference will be more about the opponent than the day. While Cleveland's lineup is loaded with left-handed batters and switch-hitters, the Angels' lineup leans right-handed, especially now with Josh Hamilton and Kole Calhoun out. Their two primary run producers, Albert Pujols and Mike Trout, both bat right-handed, as do David Freese, Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar.
That said, the Angels have so far hit right- and left-handed pitchers about the same.
Max Scherzer will follow Smyly in the rotation, facing the Angels on Saturday. Rick Porcello, who had been on track for Friday, will instead pitch Sunday's series finale. Porcello will now miss next week's four-game series against the White Sox, a team he beat four times with two no-decisions last season and a 2.13 ERA.
Ausmus, Francona have history with Tigers
DETROIT -- The Tigers-Indians rivalry last year featured two close friends as managers in Jim Leyland and Terry Francona. The Tigers' new skipper also has a history with Francona.
Before Francona got his first Major League managerial opportunity in Philadelphia, he was a coach on Buddy Bell's staff in Detroit. Among his players was a newly acquired young catcher named Brad Ausmus.
"He's definitely a player's manager, and he was a player's coach when I was here," Ausmus said Wednesday. "Tito and I always had a lot of fun, whether it was on the bench or in batting practice. I think he understands that a 162-game baseball season can be a little bit stressful, and he does a good job of taking the stress off the players."
Their friendship continued after Ausmus was traded to Houston and Francona got the Phillies' managerial job.
• The Tigers held a moment of silence before Wednesday's game for amateur scout Rolando Casanova, who passed away last weekend after battling cancer. Among the players Casanova recommended and signed during his 11 years with the Tigers is Castellanos. Casanova is survived by his wife, Silvia, and his two sons, Adrian and Gabriel.
• Former Tigers outfielder Brennan Boesch is on track to make an appearance at Comerica Park this weekend with the Angels, who called him up Wednesday from Triple-A Salt Lake City to replace injured outfielder Kole Calhoun. Boesch played in Detroit from 2010-12 before the Tigers released him in Spring Training last year. He played 23 games with the Yankees last year, including their three-game series in Detroit to open the Tigers' home schedule.
• Though Tuesday's Indians-Tigers game was postponed just before 2 p.m. ET, five hours before game time, Ausmus said most of the players were already at the park for early hitting in the cage, and some were able to get in some brief infield work. "My fingers were frozen putting gas in my car," Ausmus said.