By Ashley Dunkak
CBS DETROIT – If J.D. Martinez keeps this up, the Detroit Tigers will have to find a way to get him in the lineup more regularly. Manager Brad Ausmus conceded as much during the recent four-game series in which Martinez smacked three home runs.
Against the streaking Kansas City Royals, Martinez looked spectacular at the plate. He went 7 for 14 in the series, and he might have had even more hits had not the Kansas City defense robbed him with fantastic catches on three different occasions.
33 games is a relatively small sample size, but Martinez is hitting .300 with a .570 slugging percentage. Ausmus said earlier in the season that the Tigers did not have a true five-hole hitter, but he has said recently that Martinez could fill that void.
The odds of Martinez maintaining this blistering pace are slim. As long as he does, however, the Tigers will need to figure out a way to get him in games as much as possible. So far Martinez has played left field and right field.
Rajai Davis has played 56 games in left field, while Hunter and Austin Jackson are essentially fixtures in right field and center field, respectively. Don Kelly also fills in occasionally in all the outfield spots.
The return of Andy Dirks, who played 116 games in left field for the Tigers in 2013, will give Detroit yet another option. As expected, Dirks has missed all the team’s games so far this season to recover from back surgery and get back in baseball shape.
To add Dirks to the 25-man roster, the Tigers will obviously have to drop someone else. Less obvious is who will be dropped. Martinez has made himself valuable with his recent hitting. Dirks and Kelly both bat left-handed; Dirks is better at the plate, while Kelly has distinguished himself by being able to play almost any defensive position. Davis is batting .274 and has 20 stolen bases, tied for fourth in the major leagues.
The Tigers could keep their collection of outfielders and let go a player at another position – possibly shortstop Andrew Romine. Detroit originally brought in Romine to split time with Alex Gonzalez (whom the Tigers have since released), then platooned him with Danny Worth (whom they have since demoted) and now have him paired with rookie Eugenio Suarez.
In 13 games, Suarez has hit .286 with three home runs. The Tigers brought Suarez up from Triple-A Toledo on June 4, and since then Romine has played in just five games. If the Tigers got rid of Romine, Kelly could theoretically play occasionally at shortstop as Romine has, but Kelly has played just three games at that position in the big leagues.
General manager Dave Dombrowski will have a decision to make, and with each of the players in question bringing something different to the table, it may not be an easy choice.