Tigers General Manager Al Avila used one word to describe his ball club this season.
“I’ll tell you, this team’s been very resilient. I think that’s a good word for this team,” Avila told the Stoney & Bill Show on Monday morning.
Despite a rash of injuries to their star players, the Tigers are still very much alive in the A.L. playoff race. And that’s due in large part, Avila said, to the team’s never-say-die attitude.
“Because of the veteran leadership that we have, they never stop trying, and they never stop working hard and they never stop believing in themselves. And the players that have kind of stepped in have for the most part actually done a pretty decent job to keep us in contention, and that’s all you can ask for,” he said.
The Tigers’ ability to withstand myriad injuries and under performances is also a tribute to the steady hand of manager Brad Ausmus. His is a thankless position, and Avila acknowledged that Ausmus takes a disproportionate share of the blame when the team is struggling.
“The manager’s job is really a tough one because when he does a good job usually people don’t say anything about it and then when things maybe don’t go the best way, then all of a sudden you get attacked,” Avila explained. “It certainly happens to Brad no different than anybody else.”
But from his perspective, Avila has a keen appreciation for Ausmus’ strengths.
“I see it from inside and how he has helped almost each and every individual player behind the scenes get better. Also I’ve seen how he’s managed the bullpen get through really some tough times and really the pitching staff in general, how he handles each player day in and day out to keep them rested and keep them productive. These are things that a manager – that’s his responsibility,” said Avila.
On Friday, national baseball writer Peter Gammons suggested that Ausmus should be considered for Manager of the Year. Avila certainly didn’t disagree.
“[A manager’s responsibility] is managing the club, it’s really not so much coaching. It’s managing the club and Brad does it all well, so I’m not surprised at all that Peter Gammons would say that comment because in my opinion Brad’s done a good job,” Avila said.
The Tigers entered play on Saturday on a five-game winning streak. But their momentum was snuffed out in an ejection-riddled loss to the Angels, one that saw umpire Mike Everitt toss out Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez (among others) for arguing balls and strikes.
Avila wasn’t pleased with the episode but he took it in stride.
“Obviously the players have to be accountable, umpires have to be accountable, and things like that happen from time to time,” he said. “You wish that your players wouldn’t get thrown out but at the same time the players also have to kind of self-discipline and know the situation that they shouldn’t get thrown out. However, in the heat of the battle it will happen.”
Ausmus himself was ejected in the fifth inning after coming to the defense of his players, but Avila wasn’t second-guessing the manager’s conduct.
“Brad’s played for 18 years in the big leagues and he’s managed several years now, so Brad would know more than anybody what to do in that situation. So it’s not like I’m up there [in the luxury box] telling him what to do or thinking of what he should be doing. He knows exactly what he needs to be doing,” Avila said.
Regarding Nick Castellanos, who’s been out for almost a month with a broken left hand, Avila said the Tigers are hoping to have him back “around the middle of September.” That’s the latest obstacle in the team’s path to the postseason, which hasn’t exactly been paved with gold.
“Because of the injuries and because of some of the under performances, we have struggled, for sure, but we have survived it,” Avila said.
The question now is whether the Tigers can thrive down the stretch.