By Ashley Dunkak
COMERICA PARK (CBS DETROIT) – Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus answered questions for just a few minutes Sunday before he got the one he had anticipated. When the inquiry finally came, Ausmus smiled and held up a piece of paper.
“I brought it here for you today,” Ausmus said, grinning. “I know you’ve been waiting.”
With Opening Day little more than 24 hours away, Ausmus read off the lineup he set for his first game as a major-league manager.
Second baseman Ian Kinsler will lead off for the Tigers, and right fielder Torii Hunter will bat second. First baseman Miguel Cabrera and designated hitter Victor Martinez will hit third and fourth, respectively, while center fielder Austin Jackson will hit fifth. Catcher Alex Avila will bat sixth, followed by third baseman Nick Castellanos, shortstop Alex Gonzalez and left fielder Rajai Davis.
Three of the nine in Detroit’s starting lineup – Kinsler, Gonzalez and Davis – are new to the organization, while Castellanos played just 11 games in the majors in 2013.
“There’s portions of this lineup that are relatively easy,” Ausmus said, “and there’s other parts where you’ve probably got a little more wiggle room, but ultimately after talking to the coaches and kind of mulling it over, this is kind of what I came up with.
“The middle part of the lineup below Victor is where you probably have a little more gray area and can shift people around if necessary,” Ausmus added.
More shifting will likely take place in the bullpen, where only veteran closer Joe Nathan has a defined role. Ausmus has said throughout the spring that he will wait and see how the relievers do in various situations in regular season games.
“I don’t think anything’s locked in there,” Ausmus said. “We’re going to have to see how it goes as we start playing games. Have an idea going into each game how it stands, but it could be in a little bit of a flux unless someone grabs the role, or any of the roles, and runs with it.”
It sounds like that state of flexibility might continue indefinitely.
“There’s no date,” Ausmus said. “Just roll with the punches, see how it goes.”
Monday will mark the managing debut for Ausmus, who is just a few years removed from his 18-year career as a major-league catcher. He explained some of the rationale for the lineup, including the placement of the speedy Davis in the ninth spot.
“You hope, in theory, that puts [Davis] on base in front of guys like Kinsler, Hunter and then Miggy,” Ausmus said. “Doesn’t always work out that way, but that’s kind of the theory going in. He certainly has the ability to score on just about any double from first base. He puts a little fear in the pitcher and catcher in terms of his base-stealing capability. Maybe as a result the hitters coming after him get a few more pitches to hit.”
The defending two-time MVP, Cabrera was obviously the only choice at third. After the offseason departure of slugger Prince Fielder, Martinez would move up one spot to hit fourth. Martinez took a while to get up to speed after missing all of the 2012 season with an injury, but he sizzled in the second half, hitting .429 and recording an on-base percentage of .413 in Detroit’s last 66 games.
As Martinez replaces Fielder in the fourth spot, Jackson will – at least for Opening Day – replace Martinez in the fifth spot, where Jackson spent most of spring training. Jackson hit leadoff much of the 2013 season, but he seems to have adjusted well to his new role. In 18 spring training games, Jackson amassed a batting average of .429 and an on-base percentage of .458.
“He’s looked exceptional,” Ausmus said. “Does that necessarily mean it’s going to carry over? No, but right now I feel like he’s the best option in that spot.
“He wasn’t jumpy, he had a very strong base, he just looked like a hitter,” Ausmus continued. “Even his outs were hard-struck.”
For their first series of 2014, the Tigers host the Kansas City Royals. First pitch is set for 1:08 p.m.