Houston — It was not at all easy for manager Brad Ausmus to pull both Nick Castellanos and J.D. Martinez out of the lineup Wednesday.
Sitting two of his best hitters when the Tigers are struggling so mightily to produce runs this month, he knew, would not be a popular move. But with the Tigers fighting through a grueling patch of the schedule, where they will be playing by the end of the month 20 road games in six cities in 21 days — he had to take the long view.
“We were scuffling offensively when they were in the lineup,” Ausmus said. “And it’s certainly not their fault. We’ve just been scuffling as a team offensively. But you still have to give guys rest.
“You have to make decisions based on the entire season, not just on tonight.”
Though both were ostensibly given rest days, the circumstances that led to it were different for Castellanos and Martinez.
Castellanos made 44 straight starts, the only Tigers player to start every game, and the strain was becoming obvious — both at the plate and on the field. So much so, Ausmus said he was sitting Castellanos for two games.
“We just want him to hit the re-set button and start fresh,” Ausmus said. “It’s more for him mentally than anything else. We want him to wipe the slate clean.”
Castellanos, despite one of the best hard-hit rates in baseball, is hitting .187 this month and has gone hitless in his last 11 at-bats with six strikeouts. His defense has also regressed. The two errors he made in the loss Tuesday gave him nine on the season — equaling the number of errors he made all last season.
“Can I benefit from a day off, yeah,” Castellanos said. “If you ask me do I want to play tonight, I would say yes. It’s one of those things, as a competitor you never want to sit out. But, you understand it.”
He admitted that he’d begun to press at the plate.
“I wasn’t getting results for the hard-hit balls I did hit and so I started to press,” he said. “That’s all it is. If half of my hard-hit balls had fallen in, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.”
And try as he might to prevent it, he started to carry his offensive frustrations out onto the field with him. On his second error Tuesday he dropped a pick-off throw and in frustration, quit on the play. Had he immediately picked up the ball, he still had a chance to throw out the runner going back to second base.
“I think Nick has gotten better defensively (the past three seasons), but there have been a couple of lapses recently,” Ausmus said. “I think maybe it’s a reminder of how difficult it is to be a good defender and how you still have to put in the work and not just go through the motions. It has to be real work.”
Ausmus agreed that his offensive struggles have bled into his defense.
“We hope a couple of days off will help him get back,” Ausmus said. “He looked really good in spring training and at the beginning of the season. We know it’s in him. We know it’s there.”
Two days off and some tough love from Ausmus turned Castellanos’ 2015 season around. A two-day re-set also helped Justin Upton break his slump last year.
Martinez’s sit-down comes from a different set of circumstance. He’s been in the lineup for 11 straight games after missing seven weeks with a sprain Lisfranc ligament in his right foot and coming off the disabled list May 12.
“We’ve been running him ragged,” Ausmus said. “He hasn’t had a day off since he’s been back. He was hot with the bat so we wanted him in there. But he’s got to get a rest and he’s getting one tonight.”
He was tempted to change his mind and write Martinez’s name on the lineup card, but stuck to his guns.
“He didn’t have the benefit of a spring training,” Ausmus said. “He didn’t have that build-up where he’d play five innings, have a day off, play seven innings, have a day off, play back-to-back days and then have a day off.
“Since he’s come back, including his rehab assignment, he’s just played. He’s had a few DH days in there, but he really hasn’t had any rest at all and he didn’t have the build-up of spring training to get him ready for the season.”
The schedule is not letting up. After the Tigers conclude the four-game series with the Astros on Thursday night, they fly to Chicago for a doubleheader against the White Sox beginning at 4 p.m. Friday. That will be followed by a day game Saturday — three games in less than 24 hours.
“There are going to be guys who aren’t going to play,” Ausmus said. “There will be guys who won’t play in both games of the doubleheader Friday and there will be guys who won’t play Saturday afternoon.
“We’re going to have to bite the bullet.”