Tigers hope Aybar provides pesky presence

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Tigers shortstop Erick Aybar fields a ground ball and gets the out at first on Royals' Cheslor Cuthbert in the seventh inning.

Detroit – Erick Aybar knew the question was coming and he laughed.

“Back to normal,” he said. “Everything is back to normal.”

Yes, five years ago, Aybar laid down a bunt in the eighth inning against Justin Verlander, who had a no-hitter going at the time. Verlander made an error on the play and gave up a hit later in the inning.

Afterward he called Aybar’s bunt “Bush League.”

Verlander addressed the old history Tuesday night, precipitated by the Tigers acquiring Aybar from the Braves in a trade for Mike Aviles and a minor-league catcher.

“Well, I haven’t hit him like I said I would – so that’s a good thing for once he gets to the clubhouse,” Verlander said with a smile. “It’s water under the bridge for both of us. It’s just the nature of the game – foes become teammates.

“Guys are completely different often times on the field than in the locker room. I’m that way.”

Aybar, wearing No. 15, was batting second and starting at shortstop for the Tigers Wednesday. He did most of his introductory press conference through an interpreter (Tigers’ Aileen Villarreal), though he clearly understood the questions without translation.

His response to Verlander – about things being back to normal – was delivered in English.

“It’s baseball,” he said. “It’s the emotion of the game. Now we’re teammates and it’s time to win.”

Aybar, coming from the rebuilding and cellar-dwelling Braves, was eager to get back to playing meaningful baseball games.

“(Transitioning to a new team) is a difficult thing, but when it’s a good team like Detroit and I can help them win, it’s really a blessing,” he said. “Atlanta was a different mindset because of the phase that they’re in, but coming here, it’s a completely different mindset.

“You’re trying to win, you’re trying to help the rest of the team win ballgames, so it’s kind of a completely different thing.”

Aybar, 32, was hitting .242 in 97 games with the Braves this season, but he’s been hot since the All-Star break -- hitting .313 with four doubles, two triples and a home run in 27 games. Injuries played a part in his slow start, but he didn’t accept that as an excuse.

“In baseball, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” he said. “So yeah, I’m feeling a lot better. Just trying to finish the year off strong.”

Aybar, who has won a Gold Glove at shortstop and was an All-Star two years ago, will probably get the bulk of his reps at shortstop until Jose Iglesias (hamstring) comes off the disabled list.

He can also play second and third. But manager Brad Ausmus likes what he can bring to the No. 2 spot in the order – hopefully something similar to what Cameron Maybin was doing before his injury – especially at a time when the Tigers are struggling to manufacture runs.

“He’s a guy who can bunt, hit and run – kind of an old school baseball player,” Ausmus said. “He can do a lot of things. He’s very experienced, especially at shortstop and he’s been a part of some good teams (with the Angels).

“He gives you some flexibility offensively, as opposed to just slugging.”

Verlander, speaking from experience, said Aybar can be a pest to play against -- which is what the Tigers are looking for.

“He’ll bring a level of athleticism,” Verlander said. “He does a lot of little things that were not fun to play against. He could hurt you in a lot of ways.”

Andrew Romine, who spent time as Aybar’s protégé and back-up with the Angels, agreed with that.

“He was an All-Star,” Romine said. “Just a hard-nosed player; scrappy.”

It was also not lost on Aybar the potential fun he could have hitting in front of Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez.

“Coming into a clubhouse with Victor and Miguel, it’s a blessing,” he said. “With them hitting, I’m going to run. It’s a blessing to here with guys like that.”

As for Aviles, he never stepped foot in the Braves clubhouse. The team designated him for assignment Wednesday.