Tigers Mailbag: Aggressiveness will serve Castellanos well

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Nick Castellanos

Detroit – The Tigers jumped out to a 6-1 start, and yet the fan/manager types already are out in full force – ripping the offense, and Nick Castellanos, and especially Brad Ausmus.

Ahhh, yes, baseball is back.

We missed you.

On to this week's Tigers Mailbag.

Question: Is Castellanos' slow start concerning the team at all? – Anthony Dinsmore (twitter.com/AnthonyDinsmore)

Answer: Umm, let's see, he's got a double, triple, home run and three RBIs through seven games. He's also walked four times.

Did I mention it's been seven games? No, the Tigers aren't concerned.

The fans, of course, they're a different story – ticked off that Castellanos killed two rallies Monday, one with the bases loaded in the seventh inning, and then in the ninth inning.

Both times, he hit into a double play. Both times, he swung at the first pitch.

And, so, the Tigers lost their first game of the season.

Let me make this clear: I disagree with Ausmus defending letting Castellanos hit with the bases loaded in the seventh inning, and the Tigers down 2-0. I think Castellanos is a fine hitter who's only going to get better.

But this is interleague play, and as a result, the Tigers have DH Victor Martinez on the bench. Martinez should've been batting there. Ausmus said he held off because he thought he'd have another chance to use Martinez later in the game. That logic doesn't make too much sense to me. The Tigers could've won that game with a big seventh inning.

Now, back to Castellanos. Ausmus let him hit, and he hit into a double plays. Fans were irate. Of course, if Castellanos would've hit the first pitch for a grand slam, fans would've applauded his aggressiveness.

Let's get this straight: Castellanos probably shouldn't have been batting there, but since he was, there is zero problem with swinging at the first pitch. The Pirates had just put in a new pitcher, and it's always a reliever's goal to get that first pitch over the plate. The first pitch often is the best pitch a batter will see. And, predictably, Castellanos got a good pitch to hit. It just didn't work this time.

But it's worth noting, it worked in 2014 – a lot. Castellanos swung at the first pitch 76 times last season, and got a hit 30 times, including eight times for a home run.

I expect big things from Castellanos this year, especially on defense. With a season under his belt and an offseason of tireless work behind him, he's going to be better there. You're already seeing some early returns. And offensively, he'll be just fine, particularly if he stays aggressive.

Rajai Davis

Question: Do you think the Tigers will ever employ Rajai Davis at the bottom and Anthony Gose at the top of the lineup? I'd like to see them run. – Ben Valk (twitter.com/benvalk23)

Answer: Good question, Ben.

Short answer: It's not likely to happen too much.

Yes, a lineup with the legs of Gose, Davis, Ian Kinsler, Yoenis Cespedes and Jose Iglesias would be a lot of fun to watch.

The problem is, if you play Gose and Davis the same day, that means either Cespedes or J.D. Martinez will be out of the lineup.

And, barring injury, that's not going to be an option on most days.

Plus, putting both of them in the lineup on the same day would limit the maneuvers Ausmus could make late in close games, with his bench.

If Gose starts, Davis is a good pinch-hit and pinch-run candidate, and vice versa. The bench is much improved from last year, in large part because of this very situation.

Most of the year, you're likely to see these guys just about splitting the center-field duties. Davis will play against almost all of the left-handed pitchers, but some of the right-handed pitchers, too – like Tuesday, when he was in the lineup against Pirates veteran A.J. Burnett.

It won't be a strict platoon, where Gose plays against all righties and Davis against all lefties, because that would limit Davis to 40 starts or so. And he's much better than a 40-start guy, as he proved emphatically in 2014.

Question: Will Joakim Soria remain the closer if Joe Nathan is 100-percent healthy? – Dave Campbell (twitter.com/dwc462)

Answer: This is the million-dollar question, Dave. Or, more appropriately, the $10-million question.

If I had to guess right now, today, I would say that Soria will be the Tigers' closer, barring injury, for the remainder of the season.

I know Ausmus is saying all the right things – that Nathan won't be out long, that he remains the team's closer, that the team still believes in him. Yada, yada, yada.

But answer me this: If Soria is lights-out for the next two weeks, saving, say, all five of his save opportunities in easy-breezy fashion, how could the Tigers, in good conscience, remove him from that role – a role, by the way, that he's excelled in most of his career, with the Royals and Rangers?

Simple: They can't.

If Soria is awesome the next two weeks – he's looked sharp through four outings— the job must remain his. Then Angel Nesbitt, or Bruce Rondon if healthy, will slide into some eighth-inning work.

So, then, what happens to Nathan?

He'd likely remain with the team for a few weeks, pitching in a variety of roles – so the Tigers could at least see if he can still get major-league hitters out. If he can, he'd become one of the setup options. And if he struggles, they'll have to cut him – and eat the $10 million he's owed this year, and the $1 million buyout for next year.

Anthony Gose

Question: Who has impressed you the most through the first week besides Miguel Cabrera? Mine would have to be Gose. – Tony H (twitter.dom/tdogg769)

Answer: Your choice is a good one, Tony.

Gose is definitely the biggest surprise early. Though he's not much of a surprise to the Tigers, who acquired him in November from the Blue Jays for top prospect Devon Travis.

A funny thing happens when guys come to Detroit: They hit better.

Just ask Davis. Just ask J.D. Martinez.

It's a special opportunity to work alongside Cabrera, and Victor Martinez, and Kinsler. And many hitters before Gose have improved their game, because they're basically getting fee-free tutorship from some of the game's greatest hitters.

The Blue Jays once believed Gose would hit, but lost patience, and he lost confidence. The Tigers were plenty willing to wait for Gose to develop into the hitter they believe he can be – watch for the power; he has more thank you'd think – and, as a result, you see him taking some confident swings.

Now, he won't hit .391 all season. He will scuffle. He will strike out. He won't walk much.

But if he can just hit, say, .250/.320/.450, the Tigers will be satisfied enough to play him at least half the games – which is good news for the defense, which, with Gose out there, has the potential to be among the best in all of baseball.

Question: Any talk of locking J.D. Martinez up long-term? – Steve Radcliff (twitter.com/sradcliff300817)

Answer: Surprisingly, not a peep, Steve.

I thought the Tigers would take a long look at signing him to a long-term deal over the offseason, but apparently it didn't really happen.

They gave him a $3 million deal for 2015, instead.

Now, that's great money for Martinez, who made the minimum ($500,000) in 2014, and then set the world on fire in the Tigers' lineup – after being dumped by the Astros. And it's still great value for the Tigers, who are paying him less than one-third of what the Twins are paying Torii Hunter this year. Think about that for a moment.

But if Martinez has another special year – and he's certainly looking like he's picking right up where he left off last year – his price is going to skyrocket, in a hurry. And then the Tigers, who already have gazillions (approximately) allocated to several others, could be in a bind.

Martinez, isn't free-agent eligible until after the 2017 season, but the Tigers still might be wise to work something out now – say, in the five-year, $50-million range. Yes, that would cost them more up front than Martinez would make in arbitration, but it'd have the potential to save the Tigers a boatload at the back end, Martinez's first free-agency years.

And those would be savings the Tigers could greatly use.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/tonypaul1984