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Ausmus won’t rule out dropping Victor Martinez in order

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Justin Wilson throws during the ninth inning Thursday night. He struck out two in his one inning of work and earned the win.

Detroit — The conversation about the Tigers moving Victor Martinez out of the four spot in the batting order is getting louder — and not just from outside the organization.

“I’ve discussed it with the coaches,” manager Brad Ausmus said before the game. “There may come a point when I decide to make a change. But I didn’t make it today.”

The debate about whether Martinez should be taken out of the four-spot quieted considerably in May when he hit .318 with a .413 on-base percentage and a .936 OPS, with four home runs and 16 RBIs.

It’s gotten louder this month as Martinez’s bat has gone cold. He’s hitting .205 (8 for 39) without a home run or RBI in June.

Ausmus doesn’t mind the discussion.

“That’s what makes baseball fun to talk about, it’s what makes it interesting to a lot of people,” he said. “There’s not necessarily one way to do things. We discuss it, too. They aren’t the only people discussing it.”

Ausmus was purposely vague on why he would hesitate to move Martinez down in the order. He ranks last in the American League (among clean-up hitters with at least 50 at-bats) in slugging percentage (.374) and OPS (.709).

It is presumed Martinez bats fourth because he provides good protection for No. 3 hitter Miguel Cabrera; his batting fourth theoretically would discourage teams from pitching around Cabrera.

“That’s probably a little overblown at certain times,” Ausmus said. “There are hitters the opposition is more aware of and there is some protection to the hitter in front of him. Cabrera is a guy teams generally know where he’s at in the lineup and they will take a more direct approach to the hitter in front of him.

“But it’s not a huge difference.”

Ausmus was asked if there would be a negative impact on Martinez, psychologically or otherwise, if he was moved down in the order.

“No,” he said. “If I need to move Victor, I will move Victor. But there are considerations with other people.”

He is reluctant to move either J.D. Martinez or Justin Upton, the Nos. 5 and 6 hitters, because they are producing where they are at.

“Neither did that well in the two-hole last year,” he said. “I am not sure I want to revisit that, just from a psychological perspective.”

The primary reason given for Martinez staying in the four spot is that he’s a switch-hitter and his ability to hit left-handed breaks up a string of what could be seven straight right-handed hitters. That becomes important late in a game when a team can neutralize the Tigers offense for two innings with good right-handed late-inning relief pitching.

If left-handed hitting Alex Avila continues to produce at this current pace, he could be a candidate to hit fourth.

“Victor would be fine with (a move),” Ausmus said. “I would talk to him before we did anything, of course. But he’d be fine with it. I am not worried about that.”

Around the horn

Right-handed pitcher Joe Jimenez (back) has been activated off the disabled list and assigned to High-A Lakeland. Health permitting, he is expected to move quickly back up to Triple-A Toledo.

… Michael Fulmer (shoulder bursitis) reported no ill-effects from his bullpen session on Wednesday. He is scheduled to make his start on Saturday.

… Former Tigers pitcher Jair Jurrjens, pitching for the Dodgers in Triple-A, was suspended for 80 games after testing positive for Testosterone.

… Anibal Sanchez (hamstring) had a successful first start coming off the DL Wednesday. He went five innings (83 pitches) and allowed a run and four hits. He struck out seven and got 14 swings and misses on 51 strikes, according to the Toledo Blade. @cmccosky