Tigers face tough lineup decisions in Nationals series

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit — There were question marks in the position boxes next to the names of Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez on the initial lineup card posted in the Tigers’ clubhouse Saturday.

Manager Brad Ausmus was contemplating giving Martinez the start at first base and using Cabrera as the designated hitter. The Tigers begin a three-game, interleague series in Washington on Monday — National League rules prohibit designated hitters — and the Tigers would like to keep Martinez’s bat in the lineup.

Martinez has been taking ground balls at first base for more than a week and needs some game action ahead of the Nationals series.

“I decided not to play him out there today,” Ausmus said. “There is a chance of rain and I don’t want have him out there if it’s wet. But you might see him tomorrow. In fact, he will probably play first in two or three of the next four games.”

Martinez was nursing a hamstring strain earlier in the season and wasn’t healthy enough to play first base in the two National League series at Miami and Pittsburgh.

He is healthy enough now, for sure, but there is another factor involved here.

“It’s good (that he’s ready to play first), but Nick is swinging the bat pretty good,” Martinez said.

Nick Castellanos is leading the American League in hitting with a .371 average. If Martinez plays first, Cabrera would play third and that would take Castellanos’ bat out of the lineup.

Ausmus hasn’t fully decided on how he’s going to play it in Washington. But it’s possible he could give each of the three players one of those games off.

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The interleague series, because pitchers hit and more pinch-hitters are typically used, will force the Tigers into adding another position player to the roster.

They have been playing with one less position player and one extra pitcher for more than week, presumably waiting for center fielder Cameron Maybin to complete his rehab assignment at Toledo.

That’s not likely to happen before the series in Washington.

“He’s still just DHing,” Ausmus said. “He can throw. He’s throwing out to 120 feet, but there’s still soreness. At least there was last night. He is going to throw again today.”

He will have to play at least a couple games in center before he’s cleared to return. So the Tigers will be looking for another position player.

They could recall Tyler Collins. Or, they could reward Steven Moya for his torrid hitting thus far -- .336 with seven home runs and 20 RBIs at Toledo. Center fielder Wynton Bernard and corner outfielder Nate Schierholtz would be other options.

The decision, Ausmus said, would be made after the game Sunday.

No BP

Ausmus cleared out the clubhouse after the Tigers fourth straight loss Friday night and told his position players not to come back until 11:30 Saturday morning.

No batting practice. No early work. Go home, rest, relax, get your heads right.

“We’d been taking batting practice and losing, so,” Ausmus shrugged. “Let’s not think about it so much. Let’s just go play a baseball game, like you did back in little league.”

The Tigers responded with five runs and 11 hits.

“It’s not because we didn’t have BP,” catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said. “It’s a good lineup. We’re a good-hitting team and we’re going to get hot. It’s hard to keep a team this good down.”

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Bad break

The Tigers seemed to have something going in the eighth. They had two on, one out and a struggling J.D. Martinez up at the plate.

He topped one that spun in the dirt at home plate.

Martinez didn’t move, thinking the ball was foul. But Rangers catcher and former Tiger Bryan Holaday pounced on it and started a 2-6-3 double play.

Home plate umpire Alfonso Marquez ruled it a fair ball. Martinez and Ausmus argued vehemently, though he knew the play was not reviewable.

“I wanted them to discuss it,” Ausmus said. “But they said they had the call.”

Martinez went 0-for-5 and is hitless in his last 13 at-bats. He’s riding a 2-for-21 skid.

Twitter: @cmccosky