ATLANTA -- The Tigers opened their season six months ago in Miami with postseason dreams, but without a designated hitter, since they were playing in a National League park. They are closing their regular-season schedule in a different city, but with the same predicament.
"I'll be honest with you, I'm not so much concerned that the pitchers have to hit," manager Brad Ausmus said. "I'm more concerned that Victor Martinez is not going to be hitting."
As Ausmus filled out his lineup card with Martinez on his bench, rendered a pinch-hitter for three games that carry the Tigers' postseason fate, he was lamenting a schedule that had them bookended in National League cities.
"I don't really like the fact that we're an American League team finishing in a National League park, and one of our guys hitting .290 with 80-something RBIs is going to be relegated to pinch-hit duty," Ausmus continued. "I've said it before: I know you have to have Interleague somewhere [at this time of season], because you have 15 teams in each league. But for me, I think it's easier for a National League team -- especially in September with expanded rosters -- to find a DH to play in an American League city than it is to lose a DH in a National League city for an American League team."
Martinez, for his part, said he's treating it the same as he did when they opened the season in an NL park. As a DH, he's used to spending long stretches in the batting cage during games to keep his bat in tune, readying for the next at-bat. He just has to do it longer. He made his impact in the season-opening series that way with two pinch-hit home runs, then added another later in the season, becoming the first Tiger with three pinch-hit homers since Larry Herndon in 1986.
For Ausmus, though, it's about more than the production. It's also about the balance in the lineup at a time when matchups become important late in games. Nobody from Major League Baseball asked him about it, he said, but it has been a worry for a while.
"My fear when I looked at the schedule," Ausmus said, referring to last fall, "was that it would come down to the wire like it is right now, and we were going to lose one of our best hitters -- and our best left-handed bat for sure, when he's hitting from that side."
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. 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.