Tigers’ Aviles wears 'super utility' label with pride

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Mike Aviles rounds third during a spring training practice last week.

Kissimmee, Fla. – You want a window into the character of Tigers utility man Mike Aviles?

Start with the fact he takes the label “utility man” as a badge of honor. This is a guy who was the everyday shortstop for the Royals, hit .325 and was fourth in the Rookie of the Year balloting in 2008.

He hit .300 again in more than 400 at-bats two years later, too.

By rights, he could take “utility guy” as an insult.

“I am good at what I do, so let’s keep doing what I do and bring that to a winning team and try to win ballgames,” he said. “Everybody is a piece of the puzzle. No one player is bigger than this game.

“We’ve got one of the best players in all of baseball here (Miguel Cabrera). But, God forbid, when he walks away the game will keep going.”

Aviles will be 35 later this month and he’s entering his ninth big league season with his fourth club – Royals, Red Sox, Indians and now Tigers. He can play anywhere on the infield, as well as the two corner outfield spots, and, like the Tigers other utility man Andrew Romine, he plays them well.

He also provides a capable right-handed bat, especially against left-handed pitching.

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“You have to be realistic with yourself,” he said. “Do I feel like I can play every day, physically? Yeah, I do. But am I? Probably not. But I know my job is important and I have to be ready to do my job because that’s what the team needs from me.”

Aviles’ days as an everyday player were curtailed by Tommy John surgery in 2009. The Royals replaced him at shortstop with first Yuniesky Betancourt and then Alcides Escobar. He was replaced at second by Chris Getz. He held down third base for a minute until Mike Moustakas was called up.

He was sent to Boston and settled into a super utility role. But, in typical Aviles fashion, he said that injury was way more of a blessing than a curse.

“Everything happens for a reason,” he said. “I think it actually helped me. It taught me how to take care of my body.”

He changed his diet, his workout habits – his entire lifestyle.

“For a young guy, for people who’ve never been injured, you don’t necessarily know how to take care of your body until an injury happens,” he said. “That was the first time I ever had an injury that kept me out for an extended period of time.”

Before the injury, Aviles worked out like normal people – he lifted weights and did cardio. With his right arm disabled for more than a year, he had to change everything.

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“I liked to do action-based things and you can’t do half those things when you can’t use your arm,” he said. “I actually had to learn to work out and train, not just go lift. It was a double-edged sword. Do I wish it never happened? Yeah. Who wants to go through surgery – nobody.

“But at the same time, there were positives. It taught me a healthy lifestyle and I feel like that has prolonged my career.”

As for having to master multiple positions, Aviles knew that was likely to be his destiny.

“I’ve kind of been blessed and cursed with a little athleticism,” he said. “It’s one of those things; there aren’t many guys who can move all over the place and be able to do it relatively well. It’s tough to find those guys.

“I’ve been able to move around and find a way to impact the game, hopefully not negatively.”

For the record, he still prepares every day like a starter.

“I mean, who doesn’t want to play every day?” he said. “I train to play every day. If I don’t play, at least mentally I know I am in the game and ready to go in if I have to. I never lost the mentality of a starter for that reason.”

When you boil it down, he said, there are only 25 guys on a Major League roster and he’s been one of them for eight years.

“It comes down to this,” he said. “You figure out how to do the job or you whine and moan about it and you are out of here. Personally, I love to play this game and I want to do it as long as I can.”

Twitter @cmccosky