Tigers’ Ausmus no lame-duck manager, Avila says

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Brad Ausmus

Chicago – General manager Al Avila has an issue with the concept of a lame-duck manager. He’s heard it bandied about the media in reference to Brad Ausmus, who is in the final year of his contract with the Tigers.

“I just want to say one thing for the record,” he said during a 20-minute press briefing in the Tigers’ dugout before the game Saturday. “Because I hear sometimes ‘lame-duck manager.’ That doesn't exist in baseball.

“That might exist in politics: A lame-duck president or a lame-duck governor, because you can't create policy when you're on your way out. Well, nobody's saying Brad is on his way out.”

Unlike the lame-duck politician, Ausmus' control of the baseball team on a day-to-day basis is unaffected by his lack of a contract for 2017.

“He has the freedom to play whoever he wants to play, do whatever he wants to do,” Avila said. “There's no lame-duck about it. He's got full authority of this club, and he's got full authority of the players and he's got the full backing of the players. There's no lame-duck situation.

“I don't know how that's created, because this is not politics and this is not a guy getting away from office. This is baseball and he's managing the team day in and day out.”

Avila: Tigers likely to stand pat at trade deadline

Avila said a more accurate way to describe Ausmus’ situation is this:

“You can say, just like any player on his last year, that you're playing for next year's contract,” Avila said. “I'm not saying that he's got to win to get the contract for the future years, but that lame-duck tag is nonexistent in baseball. I don't know why you would even say that.”

Ausmus does have an option for a fourth year with the Tigers. Avila said that whether that option is picked up, or whether an extension is added, will be discussed after the season. But Avila has been happy with the job Ausmus has done this season.

“This a team that can get us into the playoffs,” he said. “We just have to get back the guys that are injured, we’ve got to stay healthy and we just have to be more consistent. I believe this team has the capabilities of doing that and we have a great manager to lead the way.”

Avila was asked how he’s seen Ausmus improve.

“First of all, I think he's managed our bullpen tremendously this year," he said. "I mean, you can go back and criticize maybe one or two games and question something, but there's always a reason. If you look at the trouble we've had with our starting pitching and the lack of going deep into the games at different points of this year, and how he has kept our bullpen fresh for the most part, that to me tells me this guy knows what he's doing with his pitching.

“Because right now, if you look at the innings pitched, it's pretty good, and he's managed that bullpen tremendously as far as making sure that guys are ready to pitch and they're not overtaxed.”

Avila addressed a number of other topics, as well:

Joe Jimenez

On whether pitching prospect Joe Jimenez was a late-season option for the bullpen: “Well, I would hope to not have to use him. But I think at the end of the day, if we had to, I can't rule it out 100 percent. But right now, our preference is to leave him right there and not have to use him up here. But I'm not going to rule it out 100 percent because you never know.”

On whether he’s kept in touch with former Tigers president and GM Dave Dombrowski, now with the Red Sox: “I actually haven’t spoken to Dave in a long while but I definitely will when we get (to Boston, Sunday night). It just so happens it’s going to be his birthday next week and for the last 14-15 years, I’ve been with him every birthday because it’s always close to the trading deadline. So we’ve either been at home or on the road and I’ve been with him every time, so no different this year. We’re playing Boston and I’ll see him around his birthday.”

On whether right field is still a concern: “Right field is a huge concern. We brought up Steven Moya. He actually gave us a spark there for the first few weeks. He hit the ball very well. But I think where you saw the biggest drawback was on defense, and that's why we sent him back to Toledo. … We needed to take him away from that pressure of the pennant race here to get him back in gear.

“Really he is not that bad defensively. If you guys had seen him grow up, you would have seen a pretty decent -- I'm not saying he's a Gold Glover by any means and I don't believe he's going to be a Gold Glover – but he's going to be an average defender, and he has been. But I think up here, the pennant race and his youth got to him a little bit. Now we got to get him restarted.”

On the need to get J.D. Martinez back as soon as possible: “I don't want to push him. I don't want to push a guy back three or four days early and then lose him for another month like in some cases you've seen it happen. I want to make sure guys get enough time that they need, so when they come back they stay here and they can produce.

“So, in saying that, I don't want to put a timeline, but you could say around that first part of August somewhere, give or take however many days it takes.”

On whether troubled center fielder Anthony Gose career is salvageable: “He's a talented kid. He's only 24 years old. He can run like the wind. He's a really good defensive outfielder, in my opinion. The main thing about him is we got to get his bat going. If he gets his bat going, he can fight his way back to the big leagues right from there.”

On whether Gose’s attitude issues while he was at Toledo were an issue: “Everybody has their ups and downs. Sometimes guys, in the heat of the moment, say things that they don't mean. Sometimes they do things they regret later on and they move on from that. They grow, they learn and they mature. It's a process.

“No different with Anthony Gose. If you talk with anybody in this clubhouse or in minor league baseball, he's not a bad guy. He's a good guy. It's just that sometimes guys when they don't perform, the frustration level gets to them and those kind of things sometime happen. We don't like to see it, but unfortunately they do happen and you just have to deal with them. Hopefully he learns from it and grows from it and comes back a better man.”

Twitter @cmccosky