Oakland, Calif. — How nice to pencil onto a lineup card that name and defensive position, with those numbers:
Cameron Maybin, center field, .528 batting average.
He has been the offense’s nicest surprise since he re-connected with the Tigers earlier this month following a spring filled with accidents and mishaps and too many weeks on the disabled list.
Since returning, on May 16, Maybin leads the league in batting average, even if he has insufficient at-bats to qualify as the official statistical leader. He also has a 10-game hitting streak rolling, which pairs nicely with his .575 on-base average and 10 runs scored in only 17 games.
Throw in his three stolen bases, and the fact he can be trusted in center, and the Tigers are looking all the shrewder for having made last autumn’s trade with the Braves that brought Maybin to the team that originally signed him in 2005.
“When he gets on base, he wants to make something happen, and we’ve missed that,” said Gene Lamont, the Tigers bench coach who spelled manager Brad Ausmus during the Tigers’ past two games in the wake of Ausmus’ mother’s death and his daughter’s graduation.
Ausmus will be back on duty today when the Tigers meet the A’s in a 4:05 p.m. game at Oakland Coliseum, which was the scene of Detroit’s 4-1 victory Friday night.
Lamont spoke Saturday on how Maybin and his fast feet, shod in white shoes, have given the Tigers a counter-punch not often seen in a heavy-lumber lineup.
“Instead of powering the ball over the fence, it gives us another way to score,” Lamont said. “It’s nice not to have to hit a homer. He gets a single, steals a base, and can score on a base hit.”
Maybin’s peppery personality is a match for his offense. The Tigers probably needed a bit of both, particularly as they ran into a tough mid-month stretch that has given way to better times as the team has won nine of its last 11 games.
That same spirit seemed to have fueled Maybin during a rugged spring. He fractured his hand in March when he was hit by a pitch in the Grapefruit League season’s first week of play.
He was about to rejoin the Tigers in late April until he hurt his shoulder during a rehab outing with Triple A Toledo. It delayed his Act Two debut for the Tigers – he had played briefly for Detroit until being traded to the Marlins in the Miguel Cabrera swap – three more weeks.
The way in which Maybin handled a long cold string of rehab games impressed the Tigers.
“Not a lot of guys are willing to take that many rehabs,” Lamont said. “But I think he got 70 or 80 at-bats. He stayed down there and kept hitting.
“It shows he really wanted to play.”
Maybin last month turned 29 and has a nice incentive package pushing him in 2016. If the Tigers make him part of their 2017 plans, they can retain him for $9 million, or buy him out of his team option for $1 million.
At the moment, he and the Tigers look like an item.
“It looks like he’s got a young body,” Lamont said.
Not to mention a mature approach that, coupled with some two-pronged offensive talents, have helped turn around a team that two weeks ago was reeling.