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Detroit – J.D. Martinez, out since June 16 with a fractured right elbow, could be back and playing right field by the end of next week.

“I would actually be more surprised if we didn’t see him before the end of this home stand,” manager Brad Ausmus said.

The home stand ends with three games against the Mets next weekend.

Martinez continues to DH during his rehab stint with Toledo and he still feels pain when he throws the baseball.

“Yeah, it does (hurt him to throw) but he can still get out there,” Ausmus said. “I think he’s getting close enough, throwing-wise. He can get the ball in and hit the cutoff man, things like that.”

Martinez’s return will force the club to make a tough roster decision. Tyler Collins has been playing well in his absence. He hit his third home run Friday night and in 10 games since being recalled from Toledo is hitting .276 with a .323 on-base percentage and a .978 OPS.

He's also given the team some much needed defensive speed and efficiency in both right field and center field.

“The better he plays, the more we have to think about keeping him – simple fact,” Ausmus said after the game Friday. “He seems to be learning how to slow the game down a little bit.”

The roster numbers aren't in Collins' favor, though.

On Saturday, Ausmus said he expects the club to continue to carry 13 pitchers once Martinez and the two injured starting pitchers (Daniel Norris and Jordan Zimmermann) get back.

“Keeping 12 pitchers would be tough to do right now,” Ausmus said. “I don’t see us changing the number of pitchers.”

Wouldn't keeping an extra pitcher make it tougher to keep Collins up once Martinez returns?

“Yes, it makes it tougher, that’s the short answer,” Ausmus said. “But we will deal with it when J.D. returns.”

Collins has been through this. He understands that he could be sent back to Toledo when Martinez returns.

“How good is our lineup going to be when that guy comes back?” Collins said. “I mean, that’s what I’d do. I want whatever team I’m playing on to be the best team it can be. That’s it.”

But it’s not set in stone. The trade deadline is Monday and although general manager Al Avila has said he isn’t expecting to make any major moves, the roster could be altered.

And although Ausmus is optimistic that Martinez will return by the end of next week, that’s not a certainty, either.

In the meantime, Collins knows all he can do about it is to continue playing and contributing.

“I don’t feel like I ever had to prove anything,” he said. “I come to the yard and I’ve got a job to do. I just do my best to do my job well.”

Collins agrees that he has learned to slow the game down at the Major League level. As Ausmus has said, he’s less like a bull in a china shop these days.

“Yeah, totally,” Collins said.

He was asked if was simply a matter of getting extended playing time that’s helped him settle in.

“It’s going up and down (to Toledo) six times in your career,” he said. “If I’ve learned anything, it’s that the stadiums and the uniforms are the only things that change. It’s just ball. You’ve got to slow your brain down.

“It’s not easy and everyone is going to learn it and understand it at their own pace. I’m good now.”

Twitter @cmccosky

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