February 20, 2014 at 5:47 pm

Tigers' Brad Ausmus will deploy defensive coordinator in variety of roles

Lakeland, Fla. – Why do the Tigers have a defensive coordinator this year?

His name is Matt Martin, by the way – and that’s his title: Defensive coordinator.

This is Martin’s second time around in the Tigers’ organization. From 1998-2003, he held a variety of jobs, from minor-league manager to Double A hitting coach.

He is also a respected infield instructor, but isn’t the Tigers’ infield coach. Omar Vizquel is.

Martin will have several responsibilities, but the scope of them is still evolving.

“Initially,” said manager Brad Ausmus, “it was more about making sure, going into a series, that the way we were pitching hitters matched up with the way we were defending hitters in both the infield and outfield.

“Say we’re playing a shift on someone. Well, let’s make sure it parallels the approach of the pitchers to get that result.

“There were some teams that I played against that were very good at lining that up. The St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves come to mind.

“They consistently pitched opposing hitters to the strengths of their defense,” said Ausmus. “I’m assuming that was a conscious effort by those teams.”

That’s not to say Ausmus will be a big-shift manager. He doesn’t plan to be.

“There are times to do it and hitters to do it against,” he said. “But there are also game situations in which you want to avoid it.”

Martin’s job has grown beyond what it was envisioned to be, however, because he will be the point man for the Tigers on the use of instant replays.

“His job changed as soon as they announced instant replay,” Ausmus said. “He’ll be the guy looking at video.

“But this isn’t just new to Matt, it’s new to everyone in every organization.”

Another rule

As far as the no-contact rule on collisions at the plate, it’s not yet in place, so the Tigers are going through their drills on plays at the plate “like it’s business as usual,” said Ausmus.

“There’s no guarantee there will be an actual rule change, so until there is, you have to treat it like it has been for decades.

“There has to be a tipping point, though, when baseball will have to say, ‘You can’t make that change,’ because we won’t have an opportunity to practice it.

“On March 29, for instance, you can’t suddenly say, ‘All right, there’s no contact at the plate,’” said Ausmus. “Until it’s a rule, there’s nothing we can practice because we might be practicing the wrong thing.”

Ausmus said he likes the intent of what he perceives will be the no-contact rule, “but I don’t want home plate to be turned into just another base.

“I mean if they eliminate contact at the plate, what happens to the take-out slide at second base? I would think you would have eliminate contact at every base.

“It’s complete conjecture until we get something from Major League Baseball. But if you’re eliminating contact at home, you have to eliminate it at all bases.”

Working at short

It’s not a position he’s played a lot in the big leagues -- just two games. He has much more experience at second base and in left field, but the Tigers are asking newcomer Steve Lombardozzi to work at short as a backup to Jose Iglesias.

“I told him that the first day,” said Ausmus, “specifically at short and third. That doesn’t mean he won’t get his looks at second and in left, but if Iglesias needs a couple of days, we’ll need someone to play short. So we want him to be comfortable there.”

Around the horn

Jim Leyland didn’t like the squeeze bunt, but Ausmus doesn’t seem to mind it because he was good at it as a player.

“I took pride in bunting,” he said. “I think Phil Garner had me squeeze six times in one season. There are times to use it. So let’s put it this way: There will be a sign for it.”

... It’s Hall of Fame time for Dan Lunetta, the Tigers’ director of minor-league operations since 2004. At a banquet this week in his hometown of Jamestown, N.Y., Lunetta was inducted into the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame.

Jose Iglesias obliges a fan and takes a photo after the Tigers' practice on Thursday in Lakeland, Fla. / Elizabeth Conley / Detroit News