Could Tyler Collins stick around?

A week ago, the idea of Tyler Collins as anything more than a placeholder for the outfield spot that belongs to J.D. Martinez sounded too laughable to seriously consider. Collins, a .214 hitter at Triple-A Toledo this year, was seemingly doomed in Detroit after his infamous outfield gesture in April until Steven Moya’s struggles earned him a return. Even when Collins started playing semi-regularly, the progress Martinez made over the past week put a countdown on his starts in right field.

Martinez is expected to give the Tigers a major boost when he returns. But the more plays Collins makes this week — from Wednesday’s throw from center field to home plate in Boston to Friday’s three-run homer — the more he makes a case to stick around as an extra outfielder off the bench. It appears to be a growing consideration for manager Brad Ausmus.

“The better he plays, the more we have to think about keeping him,” Ausmus said. “It’s a simple fact. He seems to be learning to slow the game down a little bit.”

There are two logical ways for the Tigers to keep Collins: Either shed a utility player (unlikely), or cut down the bullpen from eight pitchers to seven (more feasible). They’ve carried an extra reliever for the better part of two months, giving them extra depth while the bullpen was struggling and starters were struggling to pitch deep into games. That’s not as big of an issue now, evidenced by the fact that Dustin Molleken’s appearance Friday was his first in 13 days and his second in three weeks.

Still, the Tigers have to decide the benefit, if there’s enough playing time available for Collins to make it worth keeping him around. If Cameron Maybin’s injuries remain a concern down a stretch, or if J.D. Martinez’s arm is iffy enough to make Ausmus prefer a defensive replacement late in games, then there might be a place for Collins on the bench.

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