Minneapolis — It’s not easy to impress folks when your 2014 at-bats total is a single digit: five.
Steven Moya isn’t complaining. Nor, in a world that says you must pay your dues, does he have reason to gripe.
He is a rookie, five weeks past his 23rd birthday, and he does indeed feel blessed simply to be wearing a Tigers uniform during this September stretch when expanded rosters have given the left-handed hitting right-fielder a chance to be with the big league team.
“Just trying to learn for next year,” said Moya, who is all of the 6-foot-6, 232 pounds listed on his bio.
Moya was mingling with his clubhouse mates Tuesday as the Tigers got ready for a night game against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. He was called up Sept. 1 for reasons that had everything to do with his two-way skills. Moya has power, runs well in the outfield, and has the kind of arm and glove the Tigers would trust in any defensive situation.
He remains more of a prospect at this point, when teams clawing for a playoff ticket tend to lean on the older crowd. Still, Moya has been taking a seat at the seminar, especially with respect to big league pitching, the strike zone (his fundamental challenge), and the subtleties of baseball’s highest level.
“It’s the same pitching,” said Moya, who set records at Double A Erie in 2014 when he slammed 33 home runs, had 105 RBIs, and lashed 33 doubles. “But the pitchers up here are smarter. They make less mistakes. If you have a weakness, they keep going after it.”
Moya’s issue throughout his early years in the Tigers farm chain has been the strike zone. He not only strikes out regularly (161 times in 133 games at Erie this season), but he swings liberally (23 walks).
They are battles he has been winning, at least compared with past seasons. Moya batted .276 in 2014 and had an OPS of .861, mostly because of his .555 slugging percentage.
With the Tigers, he has learned to listen. Above all, to listen as the seasoned souls, Victor Martinez in particular, have counseled him in hitting hitters’ pitches and laying off pitchers’ temptations.
“I was making progress (at Erie), but when there were times I was struggling, I went back to swinging at everything,” Moya said, reflecting on this season. “Now, I’m trying to take advantage of being here. I’m trying to get all the information I can.”
Alex Avila acknowledged Tuesday some “light-headedness” as his battle against concussions continued. Tigers manager Brad Ausmus held him out of the lineup a second consecutive game and hinted Avila would probably miss tonight’s game, as well.
Avila’s latest bout with blows to the head occurred in Sunday’s game against the Indians. He was tagged in the face by Indians first baseman Carlos Santana as Avila dived while diving into the first base during a pickoff throw.
“He’ll continue to be day-to-day,” Ausmus said. “The head is an area where you’ve got to be very careful.”
... The Tigers lost another regular when third baseman Nick Castellanos was a pregame scratch. Castellanos bruised his foot during batting practice Monday and was limping following Tuesday’s warm-ups. Don Kelly started in place of Castellanos.
Ausmus still had no firm answer for who might start Friday’s game against the Royals at Kauffman Stadium. Justin Verlander is scheduled, but Verlander has been dealing with a finger blister since last week and, while not saying the blister is a specific problem, Ausmus is playing it cozy.
David Priceis scheduled to start tonight for the Tigers and Ausmus said plans would remain in place for Price’s start. The Tigers are off Thursday.
Ryan in relief
Kyle Ryan, the rookie left-hander who got the Tigers out of a Monday mess with a double-play grounder, is supposedly a starting pitcher. But after he took care of the Twins in a sticky situation in Monday’s 8-6 victory, Ausmus has no plans to relocate Ryan.
That’s particularly the case after Blaine Hardy developed a sudden estrangement from the strike zone in some of his more recent appearances.
“We’ll probably use him,” Ausmus said of Ryan and a relief role that, for now, appears to be a match.