Tigers have depth, versatility to adjust while DH recovers from left knee injury
By Mike Bauman
There are not many teams that can get along without a player who went .335/.409/.565 the previous season, while leading the league in on-base percentage and OPS. The Tigers should be one of the happy exceptions.
That individual performance was the work of Victor Martinez last season, when he finished second in the voting for the American League Most Valuable Player Award. It was one of the finest seasons in an already impressive career.
The 2015 season has been a completely different story for the Tigers' designated hitter. Anybody who saw Martinez hobbling after trying to beat out the back end of a double-play grounder Monday night could see how hampered he was by a bad left knee.
Martinez had undergone surgery in February to trim a torn meniscus in the left knee. He had received a cortisone injection in the knee last Thursday and had missed the better part of four games. Following that rest, Martinez went 0-for-4 on Monday night and did not get the ball out of the infield.
Martinez, a switch-hitter, is particularly bothered by the knee when hitting left-handed. He is 12-for-85 (.141) from that side of the plate this season.
The Tigers placed Martinez on the disabled list Tuesday due to the inflammation in his left knee. Detroit had earlier been operating under the belief that resting the knee would not make a difference, but his performance Monday night altered that perspective.
"We were hoping that final step of the cortisone injection, we might see a difference in his ability to swing a bat from the left side," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "I just think over the course of the game last night, we decided -- or I decided, quite frankly, with [general manager Dave Dombrowski's] agreement -- that we weren't seeing the same guy. He just wasn't getting better the way we hoped he'd get better while playing. We just came to the realization that he's got to rest."
The Tigers recalled outfielder Tyler Collins from Triple-A Toledo to replace Martinez on the active roster. The results of this move were not immediately overwhelming.
Collins went 1-for-3 with a walk and two strikeouts, but Detroit managed only three hits, all of them singles, in an 8-1 loss to the Brewers. But this one result is not going to diminish what the Tigers are and what they have already done this season.
Without V-Mart at anything like full strength and effectiveness, the Tigers still led the AL in on-base percentage over their first 40 games, and they ranked fourth in runs scored. There isn't any reason to believe that the rest of team is going to stop producing now.
And what they have had from Martinez so far has been nothing like a healthy Martinez would produce. It could be argued that, hampered as he has been hitting left-handed, Detroit will be better served while he is healing to have a healthy player taking his place in the lineup.
The one thing the Tigers couldn't do was simply to continue playing Martinez in the hopes that he would improve.
"He wasn't upset in an angry way," Ausmus said of Martinez' reaction to being placed on the disabled list. "He was upset because he didn't want to go on the DL. He's got a warrior mentality and he wanted to show his teammates he could play through the pain, but I think it finally came to the realization to him that it was probably more than pain. It was an injury that had to be taken care of, or he wouldn't be able to perform the way he's used to performing."
While Martinez is out, a deep and talented Detroit lineup should be able to keep the Tigers headed in a winning direction. The Tigers, winners of four straight AL Central titles, have typically had a heavy-hitting offense. This season, their attack is diversified. They are second in the league in stolen bases. They have already stolen more bases this year (36) than they did in all of 2013.
There is no real substitute for a healthy, productive Martinez, but the Tigers have basically been without that Martinez so far this season. They have the lineup depth and versatility to compete at the necessary high level until the real V-Mart returns.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.