Avila makes terrific grab in 1st start at first
Filling in for Miggy, Tigers' usual catcher flips headfirst into stands
DETROIT -- Before Saturday's 8-3 victory over the Blue Jays, during which he made his first career start at first base, the Tigers' Alex Avila downplayed expectations.
"I'm not going to be amazing over there by any means, but I think I'll do adequate," Avila said.
Instead, the catcher-turned-infielder delivered the biggest highlight of the day, tumbling into the seats while catching a Russell Martin popup to end the top half of the fourth inning. Avila -- a corner infielder in college -- inadvertently clipped an advertising board and flipped upside down over the railing as he completed the play.
"He came out of nowhere," said second baseman Ian Kinsler. "I thought I was going to catch that ball. I kind of broke down three steps before the wall, and he just kind of flung his body backwards into the stands. That was an extremely impressive catch."
Avila was filling in at first for an injured Miguel Cabrera, who left Friday's game with a Grade 3 strain of his left calf and will miss six weeks. Avila caught Friday in his first big league action since going on the disabled list May 9 with a knee injury that the club initially feared would end his season. But he didn't look timid Saturday as he sacrificed his body for an out.
"I was thinking, 'We just lost our second catcher' at first, because of the way he looked," said Tigers manager Brad Ausmus. "I was actually more concerned he might hit his head during the course of it. Less concerned about the knee and more concerned about his head, but luckily he was fine."
That wasn't Avila's only big defensive play of the game. In the fifth, he teamed up with catcher James McCann to complete a pickoff of Devon Travis. Though the Blue Jays' infielder appeared to begin his dive back in time, Avila blocked the bag with his left foot until he could apply the tag.
"The other bases -- first, second and third -- when there's plays, you can do that," Avila said. "There's no rule against it. Get an out any way you can."
Despite Avila's big defensive performance, Ausmus isn't committing to giving him the job full-time. The manager said he's still concerned about Avila's health, and his ability as a signal caller behind the plate might play a factor as well.
The Tigers will also use recent callup Jefry Marte, as well as utility infielders Andrew Romine and Josh Wilson, at first base, though more solid performances from Avila would certainly be welcomed as the club assesses its options.
"He did a nice job -- he really did," Ausmus said. "But he's not going to be there on a daily basis."
Still, it was a reassuring outing from Avila, who may have impressed even himself with his versatility.
"I think Brad's going to play me in center [Sunday]," Avila joked.