Game 47: The catching mix
The Tigers signed Brayan Pena to ease some of the wear and tear on Alex Avila and give Detroit a viable right-handed hitter against left-handed pitchers.
On Saturday, the switch-hitting Pena started against a right-handed starter for the second time in four days. Add in his start against Minnesota lefty Scott Diamond on Thursday, and Pena has started three of Detroit’s last four games.
Against the two right-handers, he had two three-hit games.
It’s at the point where, for now, the mix of starts Jim Leyland talked about doing with Pena and slumping Alex Avila seems to be reality.
“I’ll catch Alex tomorrow,” Leyland said. “I’m trying to have a little bit of one [day] on, one [day] off just to see if we can get him going a little bit.”
The Tigers face right-hander Mike Pelfrey on Sunday. Avila is 2-for-5 against him. By comparison, he’s 0-for-8 with two walks and a strikeout against P.J. Walters, who started and won for Minnesota on Saturday.
Pena, Leyland said, “has done a very good job settling in the backup role.”
In other words, don’t expect a switch from Pena to starter and Avila to backup. Any change would more likely be in a timeshare like the Tigers have going right now. The goal of the timeshare so far, though, has been to try to get Avila out of his nearly season-long slump by reducing the wear and tear.
Will it work? Leyland tried it in 2008 when Ivan Rodriguez was slumping. When it began, Pudge was batting .245 in early June. By mid-July, Rodriguez had raised his average to .295. Of course, the Tigers traded him at the deadline later that month, when it was clear he was unhappy with playing time.
It would not be a surprise at all if the timeshare continued for a while. Remember, Leyland mixed Avila and Gerald Laird behind the plate for a good chunk of the summer. If Avila gets going and Pena is still hitting, it’s easier to do.
The thing to keep in mind isn’t just Avila, but Pena and his workload. The years when Pena has had the most playing time are the years when he has had lesser production. The years when Pena caught 60-65 games were his best seasons.