Ausmus controlling only what he can

Ausmus controlling only what he can

HOUSTON -- The Astros held off on celebrating the 10th anniversary of their 2005 World Series team until this weekend with Tigers manager Brad Ausmus in town. The longtime Houston catcher was one of the most popular players on the team, and he'll be honored on the field with his old teammates.

"It'll be nice to see them," Ausmus said, "but for some reason, I think I'll be more focused on winning the game."

Nobody's likely to hold that against Ausmus. His spot in Astros history is secure. Ausmus' role in the Tigers' future is to be determined. It's the biggest question left in Detroit's organizational shuffling.

Dave Dombrowski, who hired Ausmus two years ago, is gone. Al Avila, Dombrowski's longtime assistant, is in charge. Avila's assistants, most of whom have been here for years, are now secured. Aside from scouts, Ausmus and his staff are the top figures yet to have their long-term status decided.

It's not exactly limbo, with Ausmus under contract through next season. Still, a year is nothing for a team if it wants change.

Ausmus has been told the same thing Avila told reporters in his introductory news conference: They'll be evaluated at season's end.

"I'm not worried about it," Ausmus said Wednesday. "I mean, there's really nothing I can do about it. I get along very well with Al, so I'm not concerned about that. There's really nothing for me to worry about.

"What am I going to do? We still prepare every day, do the same things every series and try to win the game."

Players say the same: It's not something they can think about as they try to make the most of what's left of this season. Still, when asked about the uncertainty, second baseman Ian Kinsler defended his manager's performance.

"To me, Brad's done a great job," Kinsler said. "He hasn't been given a lot to work with this year. [Justin] Verlander was hurt out of the gate. We struggled with our bullpen. There are a lot of things that are out of his control. He's done a great job in my eyes, but that's the front office's job."

When that task arrives, the team will have to evaluate two things: What role does Ausmus play in the Tigers' present situation, and how does he fit into their future?

Ausmus inherited a three-time American League Central champion and added a fourth last year. Barring a miraculous rally, that run is about to end -- Wednesday's 7-4 win in Kansas City still leaves the Tigers 13 1/2 games behind the Royals, though 4 1/2 games out of the second AL Wild Card spot. The urgency to win for owner Mike Ilitch, however, remains.

Similarly, Kinsler has gone into September with something at stake every year since 2009 in Texas. Like Ausmus, Kinsler hoped Detroit would heat up in time to convince management to buy, not sell, at last month's non-waiver Trade Deadline. Since then, Kinsler has been among the most vocal that players need to keep battling.

At the same time, Kinsler said, managers get more criticism than often deserved when teams fall short.

"Not just him," Kinsler said. "We obviously didn't play up to our expectations, so yeah, he's going to take a lot of grief. That's just the nature of the job. ... But the reality is, what are his options? But at the same time, I think he's done a fabulous job."

With expectations so high in Detroit, Kinsler said, that criticism grows.

"It's a tough job to do, especially coming in after Jim Leyland, coming into an organization that won three divisions in a row," Kinsler said. "Having to manage a team in your first year managing, to win a division is pretty special. But that's all taken for granted. It's kind of tough."

The Tigers are in the midst of facing the Royals, Astros and Cubs -- three young, developing teams that have surprised fans locally and nationally and suddenly risen to playoff contention in the past 12 months. The Tigers will visit the similarly resurgent Blue Jays later this month. It's a glimpse of where the team was a few years ago. Ironically, Detroit now might be closer to that developing stage, even with win-now goals.

Ausmus has placed more responsibility on rookie catcher James McCann to formulate game plans and handle a pitching staff with two rookie starters who weren't in the system a month ago, let alone the Majors. He has played third baseman Nick Castellanos, shortstop Jose Iglesias and center fielder Anthony Gose through growing pains. Now, Ausmus is entrusting save situations to Bruce Rondon, Detroit's closer of the future.

For the Tigers to win, they'll have to develop.

"Yes, we're probably trying to develop more of them than we were previously," Ausmus said, "but it doesn't change that we're still trying to win. Whether I'm here next year or not, I still, today, want to try to make them better, for them. That doesn't change anything."

Asked how much he'd like to be judged on results and how much on development, Ausmus said, "That's their decision. I'm not concerning myself with things that are out of my control."

Jason Beck is a reporter for Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.