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Maybin's exit leaves void at top of Tigers' order

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Lakeland, Fla. — It’s too early for this to be a serious discussion, though it certainly is something manager Brad Ausmus has been pondering and tinkering with all winter.

With Cameron Maybin gone, who is going to hit second in the Tigers’ batting order?

“I don’t think we have a prototypical two-hole guy,” Ausmus said Friday morning.

Maybin hit .288 in 65 games out of the two-hole last season. He had a .359 on-base percentage and scored 48 runs.

“Cam was tremendous,” Ausmus said. “He missed time with injuries, but when he was healthy we were a better team with him at the top of the lineup. We will miss that. I hope we can fill that void.

The Tigers opened last season with Justin Upton hitting second and that didn’t go well. Upton hit .211 in that spot with one home run and four RBIs and went on to struggle for the better part of three months.

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He finished with a powerful flurry, though, ending with 31 home runs and 87 RBIs, doing most of his damage in the sixth and fifth spots.

Even if his slow start last year was unrelated to his position in the batting order, it might not be prudent to move him back up given how strong he finished hitting in the middle of the order.

Ausmus also tried J.D. Martinez in the two-hole, with mixed results. Although he hit just .226 there (.302 on-base percentage), he did slug nine home runs and knock in 23 runs.

Neither player is particularly comfortable hitting that high in the lineup.

“I will hit wherever Brad puts me,” Martinez said. “I really don’t care. But I feel more comfortable hitting fifth. I’ve hit in the middle of the order my whole life. I’ve never been an earlier-in-the-game kind of guy.

“I like to be in the fifth spot where I can read the pitchers. I always watch the pitcher to see what he’s doing that day.”

Ausmus has thus far resisted using Jose Iglesias in the two-hole, but that could be an option. He wasn’t too excited about the idea of using the center-field platoon players — potentially Mikie Mahtook and Tyler Collins — in the two spot, either.

“They don’t get on base enough,” he said.

Mahtook's look

Ausmus got his first extended look at Mahtook on Friday. He watched him take batting practice on the back fields.

“He’s got a nice swing,” Ausmus said. “He was a No. 1 pick, so obviously he’s got talent. His college coach said he was one of the most dynamic players he ever had, and LSU has had a lot of really good players come through there.”

The last two springs with the Rays, Mahtook came to camp knowing no matter how well he played, he wasn’t going to unseat the starting center fielder — Kevin Kiermaier. That’s not the case this year.

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The Tigers acquired him with the idea that he could win at least a share of the center field job.

“I don’t know if it’s any more or less (intense),” he said. “Obviously, I know the opportunity I have and I know what’s at stake. But you don’t want to put any added pressure on yourself. This game is hard enough.

“Obviously, the opportunity here is a lot better and that is always in my head. It’s exciting. It’s not nerve-racking. I’m not nervous about it. I’m not scared by it. It’s exciting. It’s rejuvenation.”

Who we are

The Tigers’ overall team defense has graded poorly the last couple of years, despite a Gold Glove winner at second base (Ian Kinsler) and the wizardry of Iglesias at shortstop. The outfield defense, particularly, has been a sore spot — with subpar zone rating at all three positions.

Ausmus was asked if the Tigers’ recent efforts to beef up their analytics department could help, especially in terms of deploying the outfielders in better positions based on the increased data?

“Yeah, positioning could help,” he said. “But I talked to someone in our analytics department about our outfield defense yesterday. I asked him, ‘What can we do to make our outfield defense better analytically?’

“You know what he said? He said, ‘Have faster players.’”

Briefly

The Tigers will commence full squad workouts Saturday. All the position players arrived and checked in Friday.