By Ashley Dunkak
With catcher Alex Avila listed as day-to-day after aggravating an old injury by twisting his knee during a home plate collision in Game 5, the catcher situation is up in the air as Detroit gets ready for Game 6 in Boston. More than likely, Avila will be good enough to go as catcher, like usual, or the Tigers will use backup Brayan Pena, like they did after Avila got hurt Thursday.
Another option, however, would be catching designated hitter Victor Martinez, who caught in excess of 100 games a year in five seasons of his pro career. He went behind the plate for Detroit in just three games this season, but he said after those times that he enjoys the role.
By catching Martinez, the Tigers could make injured slugger Miguel Cabrera the designated hitter. His abdominal and groin issues make it tough for him to run the bases and to play defense. Those difficulties were highlighted in Game 5, when he made an error at third base and also got thrown out at home plate after being apparently unable to stop at third after originally being waved home by third base coach Tom Brookens. Making Cabrera the DH would reduce his risk of injury and free the Tigers from the liability of his comprised defense and base running.
Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland does not want to go down this rabbit hole of whether Martinez could catch in Game 6, even though he respects the inquiry.
“That’s a great question – really a very, very good question,” Leyland said in a teleconference Friday. “That has been thought about, yes. Once you, particularly this time of year with the significance of everything and so much media, once you mention something like that, it’s all over the wires that Martinez might catch. That’s not true, so I hope everybody doesn’t start writing that and printing it because it’s not true, but it would be an option, let me put it that way.
“It would be an option that you could DH Miggy and catch Victor and then obviously play Santiago or Donny Kelly at third,” Leyland continued. “I don’t think that’s going to happen, but it would be an option if Alex were not able to play.”
After acknowledging the possibility initially, Leyland sounded reluctant to discuss it further but maintained his earlier answer that Martinez would probably not catch, but if Avila was not available, Martinez would be an option.
Still, he did not want to talk about it too much more.
“This is the problem, see,” Leyland said. “We’re getting started already and I tried to downplay that when you first asked the question, now we want more.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Leyland continued. “I have no idea. I’m hoping that Alex Avila can catch. My answer to you was that that would be an option and that decision’ll be way down the road yet, within the next 12, 14 hours, so I’m not going to get into that because your lines are going to light up now, should we catch Victor, should we – so that’s what I’m trying to avoid. We’ll make that decision.”
As important as the catcher is for his role game planning with pitchers, calling the game, stopping any runaway pitches, and more, it would obviously be ideal for Avila to catch. Though he has just five hits in 10 games so far, he has walked eight times, getting on base in key situations.
As he has been throughout the season, Avila is the clear first choice, if healthy, but for now, who will be in the catcher spot – and thus the rest of the lineup, Leyland said – is yet to be determined.
“Hopefully we can have him ready for the game back in Boston,” Leyland said. “Whether we’re going to have that or not, I don’t really know.”