Lakeland, Fla. – You wonder if having two veteran utility players, Mike Aviles and Andrew Romine, on the same roster might be redundant. They both play the same positions – second base, shortstop, third base and corner outfield.
Do the Tigers really need both, especially at the expense of keeping a left-handed hitting fifth outfielder or perhaps a third catcher?
The answer, according to manager Brad Ausmus, is absolutely.
“If one of our guys goes down for a few days, now we can put either Romine or Aviles at that position, and if we needed to defend for someone else late in the game, we can still do that,” Ausmus said.
Romine provided the late-inning defensive help at third base last season, spelling Nick Castellanos in close games. Castellanos has steadily improved defensively, but it’s still likely Ausmus will opt for a defensive upgrade late in close games.
Also, having both allows Ausmus more flexibility to give off-days to shortstop Jose Iglesias and second baseman Ian Kinsler – something he was hesitant to do at times last year, especially with Kinsler.
Another benefit to having both Aviles and Romine is their speed. Ausmus could use one to pinch-run late in a game and still have the other available for defensive purposes.
“Experienced utility guys on the bench, on any roster, are important,” Ausmus said. “They understand their role on a team and that can be a huge plus – not just for the team but for a manager. You turn around to tell them to get ready and they’ve been getting ready for an inning and a half knowing they might come in.”
Romine, Ausmus said, was always a step ahead of his call last season.
“He understood who we were going to be pinch-running for or who we were going to put in for defense,” Ausmus said. “I’d tell Gene Lamont to make sure Romine was ready to run for so and so, and I’d turn around and Romine would be standing there with a helmet in his hand.”
The fact that the right-hand hitting Aviles hits left-handed pitching well and switch-hitting Romine is more productive against right-handed pitching also gives Ausmus more flexibility to adjust to the various game situations that arise.
Still, it will be interesting to see how and how much the two are used this season. The Tigers signed Aviles before they got clearance from owner Mike Ilitch to sign left fielder Justin Upton. The initial plan for Aviles was that he’d play more in left field and third base, while Romine backed up the middle infield spots.
Barring injury, neither is expected to play much outfield now. If center fielder Cameron Maybin isn’t ready to start the season on time (he’s out with a fractured wrist), the Tigers likely would keep outfielder Tyler Collins on the 25-man roster.
Getting enough at-bats for both to remain effective could be an issue, too. It was an issue last year when Romine was the primary utility man. He had just 12 plate appearances the entire month of April, then 31 in May, June and July.
That, though, seems the least of Ausmus’ concerns.
“Quite frankly, he said, “I hope it’s hard to get at-bats for Romine and Aviles. Because that means everybody is healthy and playing well. But we all know how baseball seasons go.”