Cincinnati — Manager Brad Ausmus isn't ready to discuss how he might divvy up the playing time for his catchers when Alex Avila comes off the disabled list, which is still at least a couple of weeks away barring any setbacks.
Suffice to say, the way rookie James McCann has been playing, he's not likely to be limited to playing only against left-handed pitching.
"I don't think I would describe it McCann earning playing time," Ausmus said. "We're certainly more comfortable playing him now that we would have been when they were both healthy. Now that James has gotten this experience, we are more comfortable playing him."
Ausmus said nothing that McCann has done physically has overly surprised him. The way he's handled the mental part of the job, though, has exceeded his expectations.
"From a physical standpoint, I don't think he is further along that I would have thought," Ausmus said. "But he is more even-keeled for a young guy than I would have thought."
McCann has been scuffling a bit at the plate of late, just three hits in his last 24 at-bats in seven games. His is hitting .259 with a low .290 on-base average (just six walks) and a .678 OPS.
But defensively, he's been impressive. Alfredo Simon and Anibal Sanchez have praised McCann's pitch-calling after recent starts. And he has for the most part put a halt to the opponent's running game.
It got lost in the all the replay drama Tuesday, but he gunned down Reds speedster Billy Hamilton trying to steal second. It was only the fifth time in 36 attempts Hamilton has been caught.
"His arm is exceptional," Ausmus said. "It's not like he is slow with his feet, but it's his arm that allows him to not always have to be quick. His arm strength makes up for whatever is slowing you down on a given stolen base."
McCann has thrown out 12 of 24 base stealers, which is second in the major leagues.
Ausmus pointed out, though, the pitchers share in that success.
"You have to credit the pitchers, too," he said. "The pitchers have been very involved in holding runners."
That has been a point of emphasis ever since Ausmus became manager two years ago.
In 2013, with Alex Avila and Brayan Pena handling the bulk of the catching, the Tigers threw out just 18.5 percent of base stealers (29 of 157).
In 2014, with Avila again handling the bulk of the catching along with Bryan Holaday, the Tigers nearly doubled their caught stealing rate — 31.5 (51 of 162).
This year, it continues to trend upward. With McCann at 50 percent, and Avila at 33 percent (4 of 12), the Tigers caught stealing percentage is 40.4 (17 of 42).
As for Avila, he is expected to squat and throw to bases on Thursday. He will catch a bullpen or two during the series in New York this weekend. Then, Ausmus said, they will discuss a possible rehab assignment.
"Because he's not a designated hitter (like Victor Martinez), Alex is going to have to work himself into catcher's shape," Ausmus said. "I imagine his rehab assignment will go longer than Victor's."
Around the horn
Martinez when 1-for-5 on Wednesday in what could be the final game of his rehab assignment with the Mud Hens. He singled and scored a run, and he grounded out against former Tigers closer Jose Valverde, who is pitching for Syracuse. Martinez will meet the Tigers in New York, but no decision has been made about whether he will be activated.
… Right-hander Shane Greene pitched 71/3 shutout innings for the Mud Hens on Tuesday. He only struck out one and walked one, so he was pitching to contact, which the Tigers were encouraged by. "He needs to throw more strikes, especially with his change-up," pitching coach Jeff Jones said. "It's a good first step for him. He'll get back up here pretty soon."
… Ausmus delivered a pointed critique of the league's instant replay system after the loss Tuesday, essentially asking the league to help him understand what constitutes sufficient and insufficient evidence when it comes to reversing a ruling on the field. He said he had not heard from the league as of 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.
…You might have noticed Miguel Cabrera has been on one of his patented hitting tears of late. He's knocked in at least one run in five straight games. He's now tied atop the American League with 48 RBIs. It's the second time in two years he's posted a five-game RBI streak.
… Speaking of streaks, both Yoenis Cespedes and J.D. Martinez entered the game on 10-game hitting streaks. Cespedes is batting .436 (17 for 39), scoring nine runs, two doubles, two home runs and seven RBI. Martinez is hitting .333 (14 for 42), scoring six times, with two doubles, four home runs and 12 RBIs.