Tigers insider: Indians are plenty sick of Victor, J.D. Martinez

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — There have been rumblings that the Indians front office plans to show significant interest in Victor Martinez this offseason, and that makes sense on a few fronts.

For starters, Terry Francona and Co. need to find some offense to go with that up-and-coming, frontline-heavy rotation. They also absolutely adore Martinez in Cleveland, and vice versa. And it would prove a significant loss for their chief American League Central rival, the Tigers.

Then there’s this.

If the Indians can sign the designated hitter, who’s a free-agent-to-be, they won’t have to face him anymore. And that’s no small thing.

Just consider the damage Martinez had done against Cleveland pitching this season, even after his 0-for-5 in Sunday’s 6-4 victory over the Indians: 23-for-72 (.319) with seven home runs and 15 RBIs in 19 games. He had a homer in the Tigers’ 5-4 victory Saturday night.

Of course, Victor Martinez isn’t the only Martinez mauling the Indians this year. The guy who’s hit behind in the lineup most of the season, J.D. Martinez, has done his part too. Martinez No. 2 was 2-for-3 with a home run and two RBIs on Sunday, making him 20-for-61 (.328) with seven homers and 20 RBIs in 16 games against Cleveland; two of those homers were absolute monster shots, to either tie the game or put Detroit ahead in the ninth.

All told, that’s an average well above .300 with 14 homers and 35 RBIs for the Martinezes against the Indians this season.

To put that in perspective, the Martinezes have driven in more than 40 percent of the Tigers runs against the Indians this year, and have accounted for more than half the homers against them.

Cleveland can solve part of that problem by bringing Victor Martinez, 35, back this offseason, though they’ll have to outbid several suitors, the Tigers and White Sox expected to be among them, to do it.

But they won’t be able to do anything about J.D. Martinez, 27, who now is a near-lock to be in the Tigers outfield for 2015 and, potentially, well beyond.

Waiting his turn

When the Tigers first needed a spot starter this season, they, naturally, turned to Robbie Ray, the centerpiece in the return from the Nationals in the rightly criticized Doug Fister trade. Then they gave Drew VerHagen a shot. Then it was Buck Farmer, barely removed from Single A West Michigan at the time. All the while, Kyle Lobstein stayed in Toledo, trying to keep the faith.

“There were some situations where guys were getting called up from Triple A that deserved it,” Lobstein said. “So you can’t knock them for that.”

Then, finally, in mid-August, it was his turn.

And it’s been worth the wait, as Lobstein, a left-hander with a modest fastball, has been one of the more pleasant surprises of the season — the last man standing among those who’ve been called on to fill in for the ailing Anibal Sanchez. Since his debut, a 100-pitch relief stint against the Twins on Aug. 23, he’s had a 3.27 ERA over his four starts, the Tigers winning each one of them, Saturday’s included.

It’s been a huge and stunning boon for a Tigers team that needs every win it can get.

Now, could Lobstein have imagined being in this position, in a major-league playoff race, this year?

“You’ve gotta have the mind-set to prepare for this situation, no matter what,” said Lobstein, 25, who was a Rule 5 pickup from the Rays in December 2012. “No matter what level you’re at, you’ve gotta think to yourself about pitching in these kinds of moments.”

Super hero

Spiderman or Batman?

Alex Avila was both in the span of 24 hours this week.

In Friday night’s win, the Tigers catcher made a dazzling catch on a popup behind the plate. He raced back, timed his jump and went leaping into the protective netting, all the while holding on to the ball.

Then in Saturday night’s win, he hit another one of his patented huge home runs, a two-out, two-run shot that put the Tigers ahead in the eighth inning.

So, which one was better?

“That’s an easy one,” Avila said, his thick stubble not enough to disguise a sly grin. “The home run.”

We get it. Homers are exciting, and Avila’s hit his share of big ones this year — though apparently not enough to quiet the critics who are obsessed with his low batting average.

But his defense saves this team, a lot, whether he’s making catches like Fridays, throwing out runners at a career-best clip, or blocking balls in the dirt like in the ninth inning Saturday night, it’s simply huge.

And that’s what most teams want from their catcher. The big hits, those are just gravy.

Three things to like

1. Joe Nathan doesn’t have the mid-90s fastball anymore, and it’s not coming back. But his slider has made up for that recently, in a big way, to get huge strikeouts on the likes of Alex Gordon, Salvador Perez or Lonnie Chisenhall in two saves this week.

2. Ian Kinsler’s glove has been spectacular all year, so when he made another diving play Saturday, nobody batted an eye. But the running, diving catch Torii Hunter made in right field was more surprising, and bigger, as it saved two runs.

3. Here’s some due credit for Brad Ausmus. He managed the bullpen to perfection Saturday. Despite the Tigers trailing, he treated it like they were leading, and thus used Al Alburquerque, Joakim Soria and Joba Chamberlain before they got the lead. It paid off.

Three things to dislike

1. Can we please stop with all the sacrifice-bunting? The Tigers and Indians did it a combined three times in the first five innings Saturday night, and neither time did it work. That’s not the point, however. It’s giving away free outs, and with only 27, they’re too precious.

2. Nick Castellanos has had a nice rookie year. But he still makes many mental mistakes, two Saturday — one when he didn’t move from second to third on a single to left, and another when he thought there was a force at third when there wasn’t. Good thing the ball was foul.

3. The Tigers came in to this season vowing to be more aggressive on the bases, and they have been — leading to a nice percentage of base runners coming around to score. But can we stop getting picked off the bases, please? It seems like there’s another one every day.

The big number

41,190 — The Tigers’ crowd Saturday afternoon, good for their 26th sellout of the season. And despite oddly chilly temperatures at first pitch, there weren’t many no-shows either.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

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