Detroit – Tigers brass have wrestled for quite some time with a way, any way, to get Ezequiel Carrera up to the major leagues. They’ve thought since spring that he could help them, and potentially significantly, with his legs and on defense.
But out of camp, Tyler Collins won the spot.
And in May, when the Tigers needed another bat, it went to the heavier hitter, J.D. Martinez. Yeah, safe to say, that was the right call.
Since then, Detroit’s outfield’s been all set, with four starting-caliber players for three spots — until Thursday afternoon, when Austin Jackson was shipped out of town in the David Price megadeal.
Immediately after the deal was announced, Carrera was recalled — a long-overdue promotion for a speedy outfielder who’s done nothing but impress all season at Triple-A Toledo.
Carrera was a defensive replacement in center field in the ninth Friday, making his first appearance in the major leagues since last May.
“I didn’t think I had a great spring training,” Carrera said Friday afternoon, standing at his new locker, where team media-relations representative Aileen Villarreal translated his meeting with the press. “So once I knew I was getting sent to Triple A, I refocused and looked at it as an opportunity to get my work done and seize the opportunity.”
Carrera, 27, certainly has done it, and earned it.
Signed over the winter as a barely-publicized minor-league free agent, Carrera hit .307 with a .387 on-base percentage in 97 games for Toledo. He thumped in every month, against right-handers and left-handers, home or away, and with runners on or not.
No matter the situation, and no matter how bleak a shot with the Tigers seemed, Carrera produced.
Now, the Tigers hope that just like Martinez — another minor-league pickup who has taken the season by storm — Carrera can help them. That’ll dictate how much he plays. For now, he’s likely to be broken in against right-handed pitchers, as Carrera bats from the left side.
Who knows? Maybe Carrera can be that left-handed bat the Tigers have been scouring for.
“He can run, he can certainly steal bases, go first to third, score from first on a double. He’s got the ability to bunt, and bunt for a hit,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said before Friday’s game, which Carrera didn’t start, with a lefty on the mound. “He’s more of an action player.
“He makes things happen and uses his feet to, at times, wreak havoc.”
This isn’t Carrera’s first tour in the majors, or even his second. He played parts of two seasons with the Indians, in 2011 and 2012, and got barely a cup of coffee last year with the Phillies and Indians.
For his 131-game major-league career, his slash line is an unremarkable .251/.306/.339.
That’s not to say his time hasn’t arrived. Martinez’s major-league career was rather ho-hum with the Astros, before he started mashing home runs on a consistent basis from the Tigers No. 5 spot.
But even if he doesn’t hit like he did at Toledo — or steal bases like he did at Toledo, where he had 43 this year — the Tigers, at least, know they have a capable center fielder who can cover the ground, which, of course, is quite vast at Comerica Park.
“I think you’ll be surprised how good Carrera is when he’s there,” Ausmus said.
Said Torii Hunter: “I’ve seen him play center field with the Indians. I always would say, ‘Man, this guy’s talented.’ He ran a couple of my balls down. You guys will be impressed.”
Time will tell. Speed, after all, doesn’t automatically translate to great defense.
For now, Carrera and Davis will platoon in center field — theoretically, Davis playing against most of the left-handers and a fair share of the right-handers he’s had success against, and Carrera playing against most of the other right-handers.
Ausmus noted that could change, based on performance.
When Carrera plays, it seems likely he’d hit down in the lineup, but also could slot into the No. 2 slot. Ian Kinsler is likely to lead off in that situation, and Davis is likely to lead off when he plays. In any event, Ausmus is comfortable with Hunter staying in the fifth spot, where he’s been mashing.
Carrera also can help the Tigers in other ways, particularly off the bench — as a pinch-runner late in games, or a pinch-hitter, especially leading off an inning. Remember, his bulk of speed and lack of power makes him more likely to start a rally than provide the biggest hit.
Regardless his role, Carrera, the latest Venezuelan to join the Tigers clubhouse, just looked thrilled to be back in The Show on Friday. It’d been a long road back — probably unfairly so, given his production.
“I’ve always been prepared to get called up for this moment,” said Carrera, who said he models his game after countryman Endy Chavez. “Now that I’m here, I’m just ready for the opportunity and excited to be here.”
Getting to know … Ezequiel Carrera
Born: June 11, 1987 (Guiria, Sucre, Venezuela)
Signed: by Mets (free agent), 2005
Teams: Cleveland (2011-12, 2013), Philadelphia (2013), Detroit (2014)
Debut: May 20, 2011
By the numbers