Avila draws rave reviews from Tigers' staff

Veteran backstop offers sage counsel, steadying presence behind plate

April 15th, 2017

CLEVELAND -- was asked after Friday's 7-6 win how he remained composed and delivered six scoreless innings against the Indians with dugout warnings issued and inside pitches carrying the risk of a strong reaction and an ejection. He credited his veteran catcher, Alex Avila.

"I call him George Clooney when he talks," Norris said. "He comes out there and calms me down. He hates that."

Indeed, Avila shook his head when that was brought up Saturday morning, though the deep voice bears some similarity. He was a little more receptive to the idea when told that Norris was referring to the Ocean's Eleven version of Clooney.

Nevertheless, Norris isn't the first of the Tigers' young pitchers to note Avila's ability to call a game or help them through issues. Matthew Boyd mentioned it in Spring Training. has noted it.

It's a pretty good compliment for a backup catcher who made just his second start of the season Friday against the Indians. But it's a reflection of Avila's role at this point in his career.

Avila arrived in the Majors as was establishing himself as one of the game's greats, then helped guide Max Scherzer and through their formative seasons. He now has a vested interest in a pitching staff that features three starters age 26 or younger and a handful of relievers under 30.

Avila himself isn't that old. Despite his veteran aura and heavy beard, he just turned 30 in January. But he has a history as a catcher.

"The thing about those years, Verlander was already established," Avila said, "but Ricky and Max were getting to that point, trying to establish themselves. And the same thing with [Doug] Fister. Those guys were trying to establish themselves like these guys are. They're kind of at different levels as far as their development, but these like guys Boyd and Fulmer and Daniel, they're learning about themselves as pitchers as well as trying to figure out the league, how to get guys out. They're going to have the same growing pains.

"The thing is, the talent's there. That's what you want to see, and you want to see the work be put in. Right now you can't ask for much more, and those guys have been doing that."

A catcher can guide a pitcher, Avila said, but in the end, a pitcher sometimes has to able to filter the advice he receives from different directions and serve as his own coach while figuring out who they are as a pitcher.

The personalities are different, but the talent level bears similarities. Norris, for instance, has a completely different persona from Max Scherzer, but his first few seasons have resembled Scherzer -- nasty stuff when he's on, but a struggle to command it consistently.

"Max struggled a little bit with that because he had an unorthodox delivery," Avila said, "kind of the same way Norris does. Norris is very smooth, but there's a lot of effort there. Sometimes his release point isn't as consistent as he'd like it to be, and I know Max struggled with that as well. Now Max knows his mechanics to a T. That's the point Daniel's going to try to get to, obviously."