Tigers Mailbag: Pride kept V-Mart on the field

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — There's been something lost in all the hoopla surrounding the Tigers and Royals, plus the resurgence of the Twins.

The White Sox.

After getting off to a rotten start — a start that was tough to stomach, given all the big-money additions they made this offseason — they've now righted the ship, having won six in a row and eight of their last 10.

The most impressive win came Monday night, when they struck out 12 times against Indians ace Corey Kluber, but won, 2-1, in 10 innings.

That hot streak has pushed the White Sox over .500, given the American League Central four teams with winning records.

No other division in baseball has more than two teams over .500.

We expected a fun, exciting summer around here, between the Royals and Tigers. But, turns out, they might have some company.

Onto this week's Tigers Mailbag.

Question: Humility is a huge quality. Why did it take so long for Victor Martinez to put his pride aside and realize that he's hurting his team? — Tim (twitter.com/timdufour10)

Answer: Interesting question, Tim.

As most of you know, Martinez finally was placed on the disabled list, officially Tuesday afternoon. The call was made Monday night, after manager Brad Ausmus, GM Dave Dombrowski and owner Mike Ilitch chatted.

Martinez, 36, is a proud man. He was proud of the fact that he rehabbed quickly enough after left-knee surgery to play on Opening Day, he's proud to be the game's highest-paid designated hitter, and he's proud that he earns his high salary by playing day in and day out. He's cut from the same cloth as Miguel Cabrera, who refused to come out of the lineup despite tremendous pain down the stretch the last two seasons.

That's a good quality to have, by the way — a far cry from back in 2000, when Juan Gonzalez missed games with hang nails or the like and spent his days on the shelf strolling around the mall.

But it became crystal clear Monday — really, well before — that something had to be done. Martinez has nothing from the left side, and it just so happens most of his at-bats come from the left side. Since he didn't want to bat righty against a righty, he had to be shelved.

I wouldn't be surprised if Ilitch actually stepped in here and forced the issue. He loves Martinez darn-near like a son, and it rips your heart out to watch your son struggle so mightily.

Martinez hasn't been helping his team, nor has he been helping his long-term health. He's under contract till 2018, at $17 million per year.

Question: Why Tyler Collins over Daniel Fields? — Derek Wilczynski (twitter.com/derekwilc)

Answer: Collins got the phone call late Monday night, that he was report to Detroit ASAP on Tuesday.

There were two candidates for the Martinez corresponding move: Collins and Fields. Fields has the better numbers at Triple-A Toledo this year, though he has slumped lately. Collins has perked up a bit lately, at least in terms of the number of balls he's hitting for line drives.

I think the decision came down to a couple things, and it had nothing to do with the 40-man roster. Both are on the 40-man.

One, Collins, 24, has the experience in Detroit, having played there last spring and last fall.

Two, Fields, 24, hasn't had many full seasons in the minors, because of a variety of injuries over the years. The job description in Detroit is to play part-time to sparingly, and the Tigers brass feels, correctly, Fields' development would be best served playing full-time at Triple A.

Collins will only play against right-handed pitchers — his splits against righties at Toledo were tremendous — though not all of them. Rajai Davis will start against all the left-handers and some of the right-handers, too.

Expect Collins to DH some, play some right field — and be a candidate to pinch-hit, pinch-run or even be a defensive replacement late in games.

Question: I know it's unthinkable, but what if Victor just isn't Victor this year, even with the DL stint? Can the Tigers still contend? — moonlightgraham (twitter.com/iseeyarodallen)

Answer: First off, those are two great handles, sir.

Second, yes, the Tigers can still contend without Martinez — and that's a good thing, because I really doubt 15 days on the disabled list will do the trick. In fact, I expect him to be on the shelf for a month or more.

Start with this: The Tigers rotation is solid, their bullpen is better than folks give it credit for, their defense is astounding, and their speed is the best we've seen in decades.

And Martinez had absolutely nothing to do with any of that.

Sure, Martinez is the cleanup hitter, and was just MVP runner-up. His absence should sting — but it doesn't, not in his current health state.

Too many times this spring, particularly when he's been batting left-handed, Martinez has been a rally killer, like in the eighth inning Monday night, when he hit into a double play (even though umps and replay got the final call wrong).

With Martinez out, the Tigers should see more fluidity in the lineup — and they should have plenty enough to be just fine, just like they did in 2012, when he missed the entire season, and Detroit won the AL Central by 15 games.

Question: The lack of offense is disturbing. What is the root cause? — Doug McCready (twitter.com/dgmccready)

Answer: Well, let's clear something up. Only six teams in baseball have scored more runs than the Tigers. They're second in MLB in batting average, second in on-base percentage, fourth in slugging percentage, and second in OPS.

That's pretty darn good, if ya think about it.

The problem has been they've scored lots of runs one day, and not lots of runs the next days. Feast or famine, if you will.

And I hate to pile on Martinez, because he's one of the players I respect most in this game. And it's not his fault he's not healthy. It happens.

But the last several weeks, when Martinez has been in the lineup, it seems as if the Tigers offense has been grinding its gears — they'd get plenty of baserunners on, but wouldn't take advantage of many of the opportunities. That's what happens when the guy in the middle of your lineup isn't able to produce, at all.

Just consider this: The Tigers have scored two runs or fewer in six of their last nine games. The three games they busted out offensively, Martinez wasn't in the starting lineup.

I'll be interested to see how the offense looks without Martinez.

I have a feeling it might surprise some folks, and look awfully darn good.

Question: Is Collins a better outfielder than J.D. Martinez? — Jason C. Long (twitter.com/Jason_C_Long)

Answer: On a whole, yes, Collins probably is a bit superior, which is why on days he plays, I expect him to usually play right field, while Martinez is the DH. (Although, for Collins' 2015 debut, he was to start at DH on Tuesday, and Martinez in right field.)

Collins has better speed than Martinez, which, in turn, gives him better range. Collins also gets better reads than Martinez, though he's improved in that regard this season, particularly on balls that are in front of him.

The arm strength, there's not much discrepancy there. Both arms are very good.

Speed, again, is the main factor.

Collins has it, so does Davis, and Martinez doesn't.

So expect to see Martinez see increased duties at DH, and expect to see Tigers fans smiling watching an electric outfield of Yoenis Cespedes, Anthony Gose and Davis/Collins.