By: Will Burchfield
The Tigers lineup you’ve seen through three games is likely the one you’ll see moving forward.
That includes Nick Castellanos hitting second and JaCoby Jones starting in centerfield.
There was some speculation that the Tigers would adjust their lineup based on the opposing pitcher, especially in regard to Castellanos and Jones. Against righties, the thinking went, Castellanos would drop down the order and Jones would sit out.
But Brad Ausmus has let things be. For the third straight game to start the season, this one coming on Friday against the Red Sox and right-hander Steven Wright, the skipper went with Castellanos in the two hole and Jones in center, batting eighth.
Both players swung the bat well in spring training and popped home runs on Opening Day.
Of choosing to hit Castellanos second, Ausmus said, “I think he’s having better at-bats, he’s not chasing out of the zone, which, in theory, will lead to being on base more often.”
Ausmus also likes Castellanos’ speed in front of hitters like Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Justin Upton and the currently sidelined J.D. Martinez.
“He’s running much better this year than he has in any other year, so he’s got the ability to score in front of Miggy or Victor, J.D. when he’s back, Upton, if he’s on first or second,” Ausmus said. “I do like having your more potent bats at the top of the lineup. Over the course of the season they’re going to get more at-bats.”
Castellanos, who’s typically hit sixth or seventh for the Tigers in the past, hasn’t cracked 600 plate appearances in a single season. Hitting second in 2017, he could surpass 700.
“He looks good there,” Ausmus said. “I don’t want to mess with him right now. I do think it’s easier to do against lefties because our lineup is deeper against lefties.”
If Ausmus has debated where to hit Castellanos to start the season, he won’t think twice when Martinez makes his expected return at the end of the month.
“Once J.D.’s back, it (will) be a no-brainer. But without J.D. the lineup isn’t extended as much, especially versus right-handed pitchers. I think we have so many right-handed bats that versus a lefty it’s still extended deep enough.”
In regard to Jones, who fared much better against lefties than righties last season in the minors, Ausmus suggested the opposing pitcher could be a factor. But the Tigers have seen two righties in the past two games and Jones has started both times.
“Basically, if we think JaCoby can handle the right-handed arm or that right-handed pitcher, then he’ll probably be in there. That’s how we look at it, that’s how I look at it,” Ausmus said.
Jones has his flaws as a hitter, namely a high strikeout rate, but he’s also got some home run pop and the ability to wreak havoc on the base paths — something the Tigers lack. Moreover, his value is as a centerfielder. Whatever offense he provides the Tigers seem willing to take as a bonus.