Sarasota, Fla. – Detroit Tigers general manager Al Avila, chatting informally with a group of reporters before the game Sunday, mentioned that he was intrigued by the idea of seeing Omar Infante play in center field.
“You should ask Brad about that,” he said, impishly.
Clearly, Avila and manager Brad Ausmus had already discussed the possibility of throwing Infante, a veteran middle infielder, into the mix in center field. And, clearly, Avila knew which side of the fence his manager was on.
“Right now we have too many guys working in center field to add another to the mix,” Ausmus said. “It’s hard enough to get Andrew Romine out there. Right now, to add another guy to the mix, let alone a guy who has never played center, is a little bit tough.
“We only have so many games and there is only one center field. It’s not going to happen.”
The battle for the center field job remains wide open. It was muddled further Sunday with the news that Tyler Collins' lat muscle flared again. He was scratched from the lineup, where he was to bat second and play left field.
Collins was unable to play in the outfield for the first two weeks of spring training because of a lat strain. He’s day-to-day again.
“It’s not the same area,” Ausmus said. “The lat is a big muscle. This time it’s more toward the spine. … I’m not concerned now. But if he says he’s healthy again and five days later it flares up again, now we may be a lot more concerned.”
Non-roster invitee Juan Perez started in center field against the Orioles Sunday. Mikie Mahtook, who along with Collins are presumed to be the opening day platoon, was the designated hitter.
“Perez’s reputation is that he’s real good defensively,” Ausmus said. “And we need defense in center field at Comerica Park. He’s a right-hand bat – so he’s another right-handed option.”
Collins and Anthony Gose are the left-handed hitting options in center. Mahtook, JaCoby Jones and Perez are the right-handed options. Romine is a switch-hitter.
You can understand Ausmus’ reluctance to add another contestant to the mix.
“We want to give everyone a fair opportunity and we also want to get enough information so we can make an informed decision when we decide what direction we want to go in center field,” Ausmus said.
“Adding Infante to the mix isn’t happening. Unless Al forces my hand (wry smile). If that happens, you know my hand was forced.”
Meet Matt Murton
Nice first impression. The Tigers brought 35-year-old outfielder Matt Murton over from minor league camp to play against the Orioles in Sarasota Sunday and he thanked them by whacking a two-run home run in the seventh inning.
Murton, a former Cub who hit 13 home runs in his first full season in the big leagues, has spent the last six years playing for Hanshin in Japan. They were productive seasons: he hit .310 with a .352 on-base percentage, 77 home runs and 417 RBIs.
So, what’s he doing back in the states playing on a minor league deal?
“The time we had over there was a great experience,” said Murton, who lived in Japan with his wife and daughters. “We really enjoyed the culture. But coming back, it’s just an opportunity to see if you can make another run at it.
“At 35, I don’t think that window is getting any larger. It’s getting smaller.”
Murton will likely start the season at Toledo, though he has an opt-out in his contract if another big-league club comes calling.
“The Tigers presented us the opportunity to compete and to work for some at-bats at Triple-A,” he said. “By doing that, hopefully you can produce and become an asset for the organization. Then, if the need arises, you are available and ready to go.”
Castellanos in 2-hole?
Ausmus isn’t quite ready to commit to it, but it seems the leader in the clubhouse to bat second in his everyday lineup is third baseman Nick Castellanos.
“Nick hasn’t hurt his case, I will say that,” he said. “He has really done a lot of things well. He’s hit the ball. He’s running really well. He’s been aggressive on the bases.”
Castellanos is hitting .324 this spring with a .395 on-base and .559 slugging. And he’s made no secret of his desire to hit second in the order.
“I know he wants to hit second but he can’t just do it for six weeks in spring training,” Ausmus said. “He’s got to do it for 162 games, for six months. He’s done everything he needs to do – he’s been selective at the plate, he’s not chasing out of the zone as much, he’s been aggressive on the bases.
“But you don’t just do that and earn the two-hole in the lineup. You do it and you maintain it.”