Tigers Mailbag: Perez's value isn't what front office believes it to be

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — Sunday was, no question, a tough one for the Tigers, losing, 2-1, to the Royals in 10 innings, after they foiled one bases-loaded chance after another.

They had Monday off, which can be good or bad.

It's good, in that you can recharge your batteries after a loss that burns.

It's bad, in that sometimes after a loss like that, you just want to get right back on the field and make it right.

Tigers manager Brad Ausmus admitted before Tuesday's series opener against the Twins that the loss did stick with him into Monday morning.

But, when he sat down for a chili lunch, it was over, and he started focusing on the Twins.

Good thing. This Twins team is scorching right now, not at all like the team that the Tigers took to task in the opening weeks of the season.

The Tigers won't be able to hit like they've been hitting if they're to win this series. The Twins' offense is legitimate, even if their pitching is a fluke.

Let's get on to this week's Tigers Mailbag.

Question: How long does Hernan Perez stay up? Gotta believe he's on a short leash now with the lack of a left-handed bat. — Peter Tringali (twitter.com/PeteTringaliDSN)

Answer: This is the hot topic right now, and the reason for that: The Tigers big bats, including specifically Nick Castellanos, Yoenis Cespedes and J.D. Martinez, have struggled for some time now.

So the heat shifts to Perez, which isn't fair. He's a 25th man who's been put in two ridiculously unfair situations over his last 20 at-bats — and he grounded into a double play to end the ALDS against the Orioles, and he grounded into a double play to kill a Tigers' rally Sunday.

Last fall, that he had to bat with the season on the line was an indictment on the bench Dave Dombrowski put together. Sunday, that he had to bat with the game on the line was the result of a) Ausmus' questionable decision to pinch-run for Miguel Cabrera, and b) Rajai Davis (already used) and Alex Avila (injured) weren't available.

That said, I don't imagine Perez, 24, will last much longer. The only way I see him staying through May is if the Tigers decide Nick Castellanos needs a break, and then Perez could get a couple weeks at third.

Ausmus conceded a Castellanos break is possible, but he's not at that point yet. And if he doesn't get to that point, then Perez will have to go once the Tigers are convinced Jose Iglesias is healthy enough to play every day.

The three bats at Toledo that would be considered are Daniel Fields, Tyler Collins and Dixon Machado, the latter perhaps a bit more intriguing because he's been hitting for two years now, and he gives the Tigers infield depth that was the key factor in keeping Perez to begin with.

Yes, sending down Perez would expose him to waivers, and there's a chance a team could claim him. So what. The Tigers are built to win now, and Perez isn't going to contribute enough to merit a spot on this roster this year.

Question: When Iglesias can play every day, is there any chance he gets moved up from the No. 9 spot? — Morris Fabbri (twitter.com/MoMoneyMoFabbri)

Answer: Fair question.

I don't see it happening anytime soon.

Iglesias was tentatively back in the lineup Tuesday, and, of course, batting ninth.

Now, if the Tigers offense doesn't turn it around soon, sure, Iglesias would be a candidate to move up. But to where? He won't bat first or second, and he won't be a middle-lineup guy. So you're really only talking about moving him up to seventh or eighth, and what's the point?

He's more valuable batting in the ninth spot, because he can start a rally from a spot in the lineup that doesn't produce many rallies.

That's a really nice luxury to have, and certainly, not all teams have the luxury to have a guy who can handle the bat as well as he can batting ninth. Certainly, no teams in the National League have that luxury.

Essentially, batting Iglesias ninth gives the Tigers two guys in a row who have the skills of a leadoff hitter. Iglesias, then Rajai Davis or Anthony Gose. They can get the bat on the ball with pretty good consistency, and they can fly around the bases when the big fellas from Nos. 2-5 start heating up again.

That will happen, by the way, and soon.

And, quite possibly, in this series.

Question: Thoughts on having Gose and Davis starting in the outfield and benching J.D. until he starts hitting solidly again? — Nate Campbell (twitter.com/natecampbell30)

Answer: For Martinez? What about for Cespedes?

People are ragging about Martinez and Castellanos like they've never hit a home run in their life, but I've very little fan anger directed toward Cespedes — who has the far better credentials and far bigger paycheck.

In his last 10 games, Cespedes has batted just .200/.238/.275, and hasn't had an RBI since April 28.

Now, the RBI thing isn't completely on Cespedes. Remember, in six of those games during his RBI drought, he's batted sixth (and was again Tuesday), behind J.D. Martinez, who has been mired in an awful slump.

It's tougher to drive in runs when guys aren't getting on base in front of you.

But there's plenty of blame for Cespedes, who takes all-world hacks until he gets two strikes, at which point he becomes super likely to chase a pitch out of the zone. He made two of the most critical outs in Sunday's dud loss.

J.D. Martinez is turning the corner, I really believe that.

Yes, he's had just two hits in his last nine games, but those are in his last two games. He's also walked eight times in his last five games, a good sign that he's starting to see the ball and recognize pitches quicker. The four games before that, he was lost as we've ever seen him.

Question: This team feels so much like last year's team. New players but same prognosis — not good enough. Can we turn it around? — Doug McCready (twitter.com/dgmccready)

Answer: Let me look at the calendar. It's mid-May.

Let me look at the schedule. The Tigers have played just 32 of their 162 games.

And, oh, by the way, they have one of the better records in baseball, at 19-13 entering Tuesday night's game.

I get what you're saying by "turn it around," though.

The Tigers started hot, at 11-2, and are just 8-11 since.

That's troubling. But it won't last. The Tigers offense is too good to go silent for too long. Miguel Cabrera will heat up. Victor Martinez is getting healthy. J.D. Martinez is starting to turn it around. Castellanos showed season he can have consistently good at-bats.

Oh, and the Tigers also are without Justin Verlander, Alex Avila and Bruce Rondon, and still are 19-13.

This team has a great defense, great athleticism, a great lineup, a better bullpen than most of you give it credit for, and the rotation, while not great, will get better when Verlander returns and when Dombrowski, no doubt, delivers another big splash at the July 31 trade deadline.

This team's talent level is impressive, arguably more than the Royals' — and that's not a dig at the Royals. The Tigers are somewhere between the 11-2 start and the 8-12 record since then, and there's a good chance that'll be good enough to seal this team another postseason ticket.

Question: Any blowback from your Ausmus article? Nice work. — B.C. (twitter.com/byroncopley57)

Answer: Appreciate that, B.C.

For those of you who didn't read my column Monday, I made a (admittedly, way-too-long) case that Ausmus made some big mistakes in Sunday night's loss to the Royals.

To answer your question, no drama after its publication — nor did I expect there to be.

First off, I don't know if Ausmus reads the articles, or which players do (though I have my suspicions). The newspapers are around in the clubhouse, though, so there's a good chance at least a few guys read to see what we're writing about them, or their friends.

Ausmus is a classy guy, and I like to feel I have a pretty good rapport with him. I don't think that's changed.

That's because, I don't think I did a hit piece. I simply made observations about some of the moves he made — namely, taking out Cabrera in the ninth inning — based on my conversations with others, including guys who have managed before in the big leagues.

I didn't call for Ausmus' firing. I didn't say he's the worst manager in baseball. I didn't say I know more about baseball than he does, because, Lord knows, I don't, and obviously it's not even close.

But I like to believe y'all read my columns because I write what I feel, even if it's not popular in the Tigers clubhouse or front office.

That's not going to change, nor would Ausmus expect it to.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/tonypaul1984