Ex-Tiger Avila enjoys ovation, talks McCann's ups and downs

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Alex Avila

Detroit -- As one Tiger after another strolled to the plate for the first time Friday night, it was interesting to watch the facial expressions.

Some, like James McCann, chuckled.

Others, like Victor Martinez, did their best to keep a straight face.

So, what the heck was long-time Tigers catcher Alex Avila, in his first season with the Chicago White Sox, saying to them? Something snide, perhaps?

"No, nothing like that," Avila said before Saturday's second game of the series. "We were just happy to see each other.

"As different and strange as it is for me to be on the opposite side, it's strange for them to see me in a different uniform."

Avila's return to Detroit was one of mixed results.

The White Sox lost, 10-3, and Avila doubled in three at-bats.

Avila also got a very nice ovation from the large Tigers crowd when he was introduced for his first at-bat. Players like to act tough, and swear they tune out the background noise at the ballpark, but Avila -- who had his share of cheers and boos from his time as a Tiger -- definitely noticed it.

"It was very nice, absolutely," Avila said. "It's been nothing but well-wishes."

Avila was a lightning rod later in his Tigers tenure, struggling to live up to the expectations he created when he was an All-Star in 2011. Injuries had something to do with that, but not everything.

McCann scraps leg kick and helps kick Sox in opener

He went from a .295/.389/.506 hitter with 19 homers and 82 RBIs in 2011 to a .191/.339/.287 hitter with four homers and 13 RBIs in 2015, his last with Detroit. In the offseason, he signed a one-year, $2.5-million deal with Chicago, saying goodbye to his father, Al, the new general manager in Detroit. The two of them finally got together after Friday night's game.

Avila's replacement in Detroit, James McCann, 25, now is experiencing the ups and downs of the job this season, hitting .179/.225/.274 with two homers and 11 RBIs this season, after hitting .264/.297/.387 with seven homers and 41 RBIs last year. McCann has occasionally reached out to Avila, via text or phone calls, with Avila, at 29, serving as a veteran sounding board.

"He knows he can always call me for anything," Avila said. "If there's anybody that knows both spectrums about playing Major League Baseball, it'd be me."

McCann did have his best offensive game Friday, with a homer and a triple.

Avila, by the way, had a chance at a triple, too. He laced a ball up the alley in right-center field in his third at-bat, with the White Sox down, 4-2.

He might've gone for three had it been a one-run game, but not down two runs.

"I thought about it," Avila said, smiling. "Around second, I seem to hit a wall."

It was the fourth extra-base hit of the season for Avila, who's still looking for his first home run with the White Sox.

McCann has just three extra-base hits, and, amazingly, no doubles.

Both catchers have been plus-WAR players on defense for their careers, however, even if that gets lost on the fans as they struggle offensively.

And that can be frustrating for catchers, who are told to worry about defense first, and let the offense come to them. That's what Pudge Rodriguez said recently he did during his career.

"It's harder to quantify how defense helps a team," said Avila, who was out of the starting lineup Saturday. "If you can't prevent scoring, it doesn't matter how well you hit.

"It's easily overlooked."

tpaul@detroitnews.com

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