Ausmus confident Tigers' hitting slump will end soon

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

Anaheim, Calif. — He has tried almost everything, and still the Tigers' offense seems locked in the lowest of gears.

One thought, popular of late with Tigers manager Brad Ausmus, has been to deploy Yoenis Cespedes as cleanup hitter.

Another strategy was to be more militant on the basepaths, a gamble that earlier this week in Oakland didn't craft results quite in line with Ausmus' hopes.

"We need something to get this offense producing like we think this offense should be producing," Ausmus said Friday as he and the Tigers hoped to shake a hitting virus against the Angels in a game at Angel Stadium of Anaheim.

Apart from an eight-run burst Sunday against the Astros, the Tigers had, in five of their last six games scored 2, 0, 1, 3, and 2 runs. In those six games they had, in order: 6, 4, 6, 9, and 5 hits.

This is a team for which Miguel Cabrera plays. It is armed with the likes of Cespedes, J.D. Martinez, and Ian Kinsler, as well as shortstop Jose Iglesias, who was batting .333 ahead of Friday's game, while catcher James McCann was hitting .290.

Anthony Gose wasn't in the lineup against left-hander Hector Santiago, but Gose arrived at the ballpark Friday with a .329 batting average.

It scarcely makes sense, this low-voltage offense that early in the season was hyper-energized and this month has had dips and downturns.

Or, perhaps it does.

Victor Martinez is nowhere around. The hitter who teamed last year with Cabrera to destroy opposing pitchers, and as part of a slugging troika that included J.D. Martinez, is on the disabled list, not yet swinging a bat and in uncertain straits as to when he might be back.

"He lengthens your lineup, he deepens your lineup," Ausmus conceded Friday as a manager weighed one man's influence on an entire offense. "It becomes a lot more demanding of the opposing pitcher."

Martinez's career batting average (.305) and OPS (.842) are of course missed at the middle of a batting order that hasn't been as consistent, or as secure, compared with those seasons and stretches when he was hitting behind Cabrera.

He also brought a switch-hitting bat to an order that made it all the tougher for opposing pitchers and managers to buy an edge, or in Martinez's case, a break with an appealing matchup.

But the Tigers don't agree that one man, or one bat, should be responsible for general breakdowns in hitting. Not of the kind the Tigers have been confronting, particularly during May.

"I mean, it definitely helps to have him in the lineup — he's one of the best hitters in the game," said J.D. Martinez, who is not having anything close to the season he put together in Detroit a year ago.

"Just the way he makes pitchers work changes a lot. But, at the same time, it should affect us, individually. At the end of the day, hitting is an individual thing.

"It should change the way we hit, individually."

J.D. Martinez says the Tigers, despite their cold snap, have hit the ball better than numbers would suggest.

It's an observation shared, to an extent, even by Ausmus. In the first five innings of Thursday's game against the Angels and starting pitcher C.J. Wilson, the Tigers rapped nine balls — hard — and saw those balls generally land in an Angels defender's glove.

"That's why I feel it has to turn, eventually," Ausmus said after Thursday's game, a 12-2 defeat that featured as many Tigers pitching ills as hitting issues. "Logic tells you eventually you're going to score more runs."

Restoring his natural cleanup hitter, Victor Martinez, to the Tigers arsenal would help. But, again, the Tigers aren't sure when Martinez will have strengthened his left knee sufficiently to escape the disabled list and resume creating alongside Cabrera one of the potentially more lethal 1-2 hitting punches in baseball.

"It's too early to predict," Ausmus said Friday, although he isn't planning on Martinez being gone for a lengthy spell. "We assumed two to three weeks (Martinez hit the DL on May 19).

"But it's too early to tell. We don't really know."

Nor do the Tigers know how to regain some of that old punch and rhythm the lineup showed early in the season, and so often maintained in 2014, as well as in earlier seasons when Cabrera and the man they call V-Mart, as well as others, were regularly punishing pitchers.

"It's just baseball," J.D. Martinez said Friday, sighing at the tormenting task known as hitting big-league pitching. "What are you gonna do?"