April 10, 2013 at 1:02 pm

Lynn Henning

From top to bottom, Tigers offense already is impressive

Detroit — Third inning, Tuesday's game against the Blue Jays at Comerica Park: The Tigers get two singles and two walks. They don't score.

Seventh inning: The Tigers get a walk and two singles to load the bases with none out. They don't score.

End of game: Tigers 7, Blue Jays 3. The Tigers finish with 15 hits, including two home runs, and three balls clobbered that would have been home runs in most parks.

They did this on a gray afternoon when a guy named Victor Martinez was gone with a gashed thumb.

It was only one day of work by the Tigers hitters, which is a modest sampling. It also followed a game when CC Sabathia shut out a team that will still have its tough days against good pitchers.

But seven games into a new season, the same lesson deduced during camp is playing out in Detroit. The Tigers have broadened — substantially — their offense compared with the 2012 order that, during most games, had about three batters clicking.

"Probably the best I've been a part of," said Torii Hunter, who is one reason manager Jim Leyland's team can do things with a bat the 2012 World Series team couldn't. "If we stay healthy, it's going to be a lot of fun looking at those numbers."

He could begin with his own digits: a .424 average. Hunter knows a little about fitting into good lineups. He was wedged within that old Twins gang that so often drubbed the Tigers courtesy of himself, Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Joe Mauer, and Justin Morneau.

During his years with the Angels, Hunter played with Bobby Abreu, Kendrys Morales, Albert Pujols, Mike Trout, Mark Trumbo, Howie Kendricks, and Mike Napoli.

Hunter is at the heart of a new mix in Detroit that flashes these averages from its first four hitters: Austin Jackson, .345. Hunter, 424. Miguel Cabrera, .393. Prince Fielder, .308.

Big numbers, big promise

But it's through the batting order's second half that Leyland's team figures to make its amends.

Martinez is back and has hit the ball twice as hard as his .143 average would imply. No one has seen any falloff in Martinez's at-bats after a torn knee sabotaged his 2012 season.

Alex Avila had his second home run this season, added a single, and drove another ball 410 feet to the warning track in center field. Avila should have a 2013 that delivers more home runs and is more in line with his All-Star season of 2011.

Omar Infante, who only joined the Tigers late last July, is hitting .364 and can be expected to hit in the style of a quality everyday second baseman. Leyland bats Infante ninth for tactical reasons. He likes a hitter who can run and who can help set the table for his 1-through-4 gunslingers. Infante qualifies neatly.

Andy Dirks is having a chilly April, but that should change for an outfielder with a .293 career average who hit .322 a year ago.

Leyland realizes much of this will change. Hunter turns 38 in July and won't hit .400 or even .330 as this season evolves. Infante has been a .275 hitter through 11 seasons.

But neither will Martinez hit .143, which is where his average was Tuesday. Dirks is better than .188. Avila should add 50 points to his .227 mark.

Trade option

If there is a soft spot that could become a long-term problem, it is probably at shortstop. Jhonny Peralta is hitting .200 with one extra-base hit. He had a .689 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) in 2012, which is at least 50 points below the number a team needs from its everyday shortstop.

That situation is likely to change no later than July. Dave Dombrowski has a habit of making July his big-trade month, and the shortstop market likely will offer an option at midseason that wasn't available during the winter and spring camp when the Tigers general manager was trying mightily to make a deal.

But for now, Peralta is an exception to the Tigers general offensive profile.

Even on a day they leave scads of runners on base, and at a time some good hitters haven't yet budded, Leyland's gang can bruise you. They can beat you in ways they couldn't dream of doing in 2012.



Prince Fielder strokes a single in the eighth inning. He also had a double and two walks, and is hitting .308. / Robin Buckson/Detroit News
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