Avila, still suffering concussion symptoms, remains out
Alex Avila is calling his injury a concussion. His manager is calling it the aftereffects of a concussion. That has become clear while Avila struggles with dizziness and disorientation during baseball activity.
What isn’t clear is when Avila might return.
“Alex will each day come in and do some type of activity,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. “And until he can go through that activity without any side effects, we probably won’t be able to play him.”
The way things are going, the Tigers are now preparing for the possibility that Avila might not be able to return this season. It was with that mind that Ausmus gave September callup James McCann his second Major League start for Friday’s series opener of their division clash with the Royals.
Ausmus has hesitated to use McCann in big situations of a division race, including pinch-hitting opportunities against a left-hander. That was before the extent of Avila’s concussion symptoms became clear.
“The truth is, we don’t know when Alex is coming back,” Ausmus said, “so we better be prepared for the fact that if he doesn’t come back, we’re going to need two catchers.”
Avila believes the concussion happened when he was picked off first base Sunday against Cleveland. First baseman Carlos Santana’s arm hit Avila’s head while Santana swiped to apply the tag. He does not know whether the foul tip off his mask Sept. 2 in Cleveland, which also forced him to miss a few days, had a cumulative effect, something he has been told by doctors is a possibility in cases of repeated blows.
“To be honest with you, it might have,” Avila said. “But that’s my opinion, and I’m not a doctor.”
On Thursday and Friday, Avila was able to lift weights without trouble, but felt disoriented after a while hitting in the cage.
“A little disorientation, difficulty focusing, things like that,” Avila said. “I’ve gotten to the point where I can do things like stuff in the weight room, just normal training things. Even hitting off the tee, everything is fine. But once I get to the point where I’ve got to track a baseball, whether it’s hitting or the ball’s in the air or somebody’s throwing the ball to me, at a certain point I’ve found myself having to step back because I have trouble focusing, I get a little bit disoriented. That’s been the tough part the last couple days, what’s kind of still set me back.
“Basically, it’s kind of like a hoping game each day when I get up.”
If there’s progress in this, it’s that he’s not suffering headaches, unlike past concussions. He’s sleeping well, he says, and he’s perfectly fine when he’s not working out. He talked with reporters Friday for close to 20 minutes in the Tigers clubhouse and seemed perfectly normal.
While he was trying to stay upbeat in those minutes, he was also honest about his situation. He’s further along now than he was at the same point dealing with past concussions.
“This concussion wasn’t any worse than last year’s,” he said.
That said, he’s now dealing with concussions for three straight seasons. Last year, it was a foul tip. The year before, it was a collision with Prince Fielder while chasing a popup.
He’s frustrated at not playing in the heat of a playoff race, yet realistic that he can’t afford to play while he’s dealing with this.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned or worried about it,” he said. “But at the same time, talking to doctors, the concern would be if I’m concussed and I continue — instead of coming not and not playing, continue to play and have a situation where I get hit again or something like that while I’m still concussed. That’s where the concern really lies with the doctors, not so much what happened last year and happened this year. …
“I know for a fact I’ve played games with concussions, even in the big leagues. You don’t feel right, but you keep playing, because that’s what you do. That’s my job. But it’s one thing to play when you may not feel 100 percent, but then it’s another thing when you know you’re just not mentally right. There’s been a lot of games where I’ve been able to manage where maybe I’ve gotten hit and I know maybe I’m not 100 percent right now but I keep going. But last year and right now, it got to a point where I couldn’t manage it.”