While I thought about posting this on Twitter, I realized my thoughts probably needed more than 140 characters to do them justice. I have a real concern about Alex Avila‘s health as we draw ever closer to the playoffs. He has caught 17 games in a row now (although there was an off-day in there). In those 17 games, two have gone to extra innings with one being 14 innings. While Alex is young and doesn’t have a lot of career innings as catcher (and as such less wear and tear on his knees), one has to worry how all of these innings could impact his September and (possible) October.
Luckily, we only have one more week until rosters expand on September 1st and he can receive that long overdue respite.
An argument can be made that Alex Avila is the most irreplaceable member of the Detroit Tigers lineup (others are Jhonny Peralta and of course Miguel Cabrera). Avila offers a blend of defense and hitting that is unlike any other on the roster right now. Victor Martinez could catch, but he seems to be teetering on the brink of Guillen-dom right now and might not make it through the game. If they filled the catcher spot with a defensive replacement (Omir Santos for instance) we lose a powerful bat. So (and I am shocked I am saying this as I hate Leyland’s “Thursday/Sunday lineups”), it would behoove the Tigers to make sure Avila gets rest somehow down the stretch. While they can afford a lapse in defense or offense for 1 game out of 5, taking that production and defensive ability out of the lineup long-term is a potential playoff killer.
I worry about the beating Avila is taking right now. Every game he seems to have been hit by a couple of stray foul balls or is in a collision at the plate. However, through all of this he actually seems to be thriving though, putting up an impressive line of .429/.544/.794 for an OPS of1.338 in August. It is not uncommon on Twitter to see him being labeled as the Titanium Catcher (#titaniumcatcher on twitter…I am not sure, but I think Dave Hogg, a freelance writer from Royal Oak, may have created that moniker). It describes Alex Avila perfectly – not only is titanium incredibly strong and durable, but it is also quite valuable. He actually seems to be thriving under the most adverse circumstances, showing his strength, durability, and value.
The other day while he was trotting around the bases following a home run, I noticed that it looked like he was wearing knee braces (well, more like a sleeve). I had not noticed this before and it is what sparked the idea for this column. I hope those are not a new development and he has been wearing them all year (or that I was just seeing things). If the Tigers make it to the playoffs but don’t have Alex Avila behind the plate, I think their run will come to a very quick end.