By Ashley Dunkak
DETROIT (CBS DETROIT) – Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland talked with Stoney and Bill on 97.1 The Ticket Tuesday and had a quick answer to which position on the Tigers needed to produce better.
“Catcher,” Leyland said without hesitation.
Alex Avila, in his fifth season with Detroit, is batting just .177 at the All-Star break. After a recent 15-day stint on the disabled list after being hit on the arm by a foul tip, Avila has gotten a little better, but overall the year has been an offensive struggle. Leyland seemed determined to stick with Avila regardless.
“He’s our guy, so we just have to hope that the first half is – I think he has been better, to be honest with you, not significantly, but he has been,” Leyland said. “You’re starting over at the second half, so hopefully he kicks in, he has a very good second half. If he could do that, that would do wonders for us.”
Another player Leyland deemed as a must-have for the Tigers was struggling reliever Phil Coke, whose 5.38 ERA and 1.50 WHIP speak for themselves. Coke did finish the first half on a solid note, allowing no hits over one and two-thirds innings of relief Saturday. Other than that, though, good outings for Coke this year have been few and far between.
“Certainly the stuff is there,” Leyland said, “but like I said, that’s up to Cokey. Last outing he got some outs. They hit a couple of balls hard but he did a good job, he got out of it, got the double-play ball.
“He’s another one of the guys that’s a key for us,” Leyland added. “A little more consistency. He’s just been inconsistent, hard to figure out. He’s got the stuff to turn it around in the second half. There’s no question about that. The stuff is there.”
Overall, Leyland calls the Tigers a very good – if not particularly athletic – team.
Tuesday, he manages another team – the American League All Stars. It is something he has done before, but with the Tigers labeled as a possible World Series contender, the game carries a little more weight for Detroit, particularly with six Tigers in the game.
“You have to take it serious,” Leyland said. “The stakes are a little bigger than they used to be, obviously. The commissioner is very serious about this, and I think that’s fine. Those are the rules now, that home field advantage. You always want to win the game. I managed it under both sets of rules, really, when they didn’t have the home field advantage thing and when they have. You always want to win the game, it doesn’t matter whether they have that rule or not.
“It is a little bit different,” Leyland continued. “It’s not quite as much of a showcase as it was before. You got more guys in, probably, and things of that nature, but it’s a tremendous honor, really, and it’s for the right reason – it means you were in the World Series.”
Leyland said the previous weekend that he would use as motivation for the All Stars the opportunity to allow New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, widely acknowledged as the best closer ever, to finish out the game Tuesday night.
Of course, it is not exactly that simple.
“Obviously, if we’re behind, I’m would have to pitch him in the eighth inning because there’d be no guarantee,” Leyland said. “If we’re ahead, he would obviously pitch the ninth inning to try to close it, but it’s also a little tricky because say you’re behind, and you pitch him in the eighth and you’re behind, and you go ahead in the ninth – obviously he would not close the game.
“The perfect scenario is to have the lead going into the bottom of the ninth,” Leyland continued. “If we could get to that, that’d be great.”