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Tigers likely to be light on the bench again

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Lakeland, Fla. — Go back to the last three outs of the 2014 season, if you can stand to. The Tigers were down 2-1 and had the tying run on second after back to back doubles by Victor and J.D. Martinez to start the ninth inning.

Bryan Holaday, in the game because Alex Avila was concussed, struck out. Orioles manager Buck Showalter was able to intentionally walk the next batter, Nick Castellanos, not worrying about putting the winning run on base because he knew how depleted the Tigers bench was.

With shortstop Andrew Romine due up next and little used Hernan Perez the only bat left on the bench, Showalter knew Castellanos was the only hitter that could hurt him.

Sure enough, Perez bounded into double play. Game over, series over, season over.

And here's the kicker, unless somebody like a Tyler Collins emerges, the Tigers are likely to be just as thin off the bench this season.

"You can't fill every void on a team," manager Brad Ausmus said Sunday. "When you have guys named Cabrera, Martinez, Price and Verlander, talent like that costs money and you have to save money somewhere.

"We saved a little money in the bullpen, but we didn't have a big lumberjack bat coming off the bench, generally speaking."

The Tigers bench this season could consist of fourth outfielder Rajai Davis, Collins, who is fighting to be the fifth outfielder, Perez or Andrew Romine, who are fighting for the utility spot, and the back-up catcher, either James McCann or Holaday.

"You hope somebody steps up," Ausmus said. "A guy like Tyler Collins, who has power and can step up and be that guy."

Ausmus on ...

Early thoughts from Ausmus:

■ On having several key players (Yoenis Cespedes and David Price most notably) entering a contract season. "Generally speaking, even when I played, I have no problem having guys going into free agency. I think you are going to see the best. There are certain guys who put pressure on themselves and it affects them adversely, but in general, it doesn't bother me."

■ On Miguel Cabrera: "We are in the process of getting the AlterG Treadmill (coming Wednesday) and it's pretty intricate in terms of setting it up. (Note: Cabrera is staying in Miami to rehab his ankle because there is a facility with an AlterG.) But the day after he was cleared to hit (Wednesday), he hit. He sent me a text saying he hit and felt no pain."

■ On Joel Hanrahan cutting his bullpen session short on Saturday: "It's not a setback but it's not progress, either. I don't think he was encouraged."

■ On shortstop Jose Iglesias: "It's very encouraging (to see him on the field) but there's a number of hurdles that need to be crossed before I will feel really good about the Iglesias situation. The biggest of which is being sure his legs can withstand the pounding of daily baseball activity."

■ On what to expect from J.D. Martinez after his breakout last season: "There was no expectations on him last year; he was released (by Houston). Now he's got a little bit of a standard. I don't know if we can count on him to hit .320, but I think he could be a good hitter with power."

Different arms

On Saturday, Alex Avila caught Justin Verlander's 55-pitch bullpen session. Sunday he caught non-roster invitee Joe Mantiply. Is there any rhyme or reason to it? You bet.

"Mick Billmeyer (bullpen coach) and I kind of made it clear – don't keep catching the same guy. Catch different pitchers and catch pitchers you don't know," Ausmus said. "Especially for Alex. Guys who have an opportunity to be on the Big League roster, the 25-man roster, catch those guys. You may or may not catch them in a game because that's out of their control."

In an exhibition game, Avila will usually be long gone before a pitcher like Mantiply gets in.

"That's why you catch as many guys as you can," Ausmus said. "That way there are no surprises. You have an idea of what they can do and what they can't do and what their stuff is like.

"Even farther down the line, even with guys who aren't in a battle for a position, catch them. In August they might be in Detroit."

Around the horn

All hands are on deck. Yoenis Cespedes arrived in camp Saturday night and was on the field, well head of the first official workout set for Tuesday. Cespedes took a swift round of batting practice, spanking the ball sharply to all fields. ...

... Great line from Al Kaline. As he walked through the clubhouse somebody said, "Good to see you, Al." To which Mr. Tiger replied, "It's good to be seen and not viewed."