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Martin keying Tigers' offense even with outs

Gardenhire on finding at-bats for backup catcher Hicks: 'It's going to get better'
MLB.com @beckjason

BALTIMORE -- Until Saturday's nine-run outburst, Leonys Martin had essentially been carrying the Tigers' offense for most of their week-long road trip. His contribution in Saturday's surge wasn't a clutch hit or a big catch, but a big slide.

Though Jeimer Candelario's first-inning ground ball into the infield shift erased Martin's leadoff walk, it easily could've been a momentum-halting double play that continued Detroit's scoreless streak. Martin broke it up by speeding into second base and sliding into the path of Jace Peterson, disrupting his throw to first. That kept Candelario on base to score on back-to-back singles from Miguel Cabrera and Nicholas Castellanos for Detroit's first run in 22 innings.

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BALTIMORE -- Until Saturday's nine-run outburst, Leonys Martin had essentially been carrying the Tigers' offense for most of their week-long road trip. His contribution in Saturday's surge wasn't a clutch hit or a big catch, but a big slide.

Though Jeimer Candelario's first-inning ground ball into the infield shift erased Martin's leadoff walk, it easily could've been a momentum-halting double play that continued Detroit's scoreless streak. Martin broke it up by speeding into second base and sliding into the path of Jace Peterson, disrupting his throw to first. That kept Candelario on base to score on back-to-back singles from Miguel Cabrera and Nicholas Castellanos for Detroit's first run in 22 innings.

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"That was a big play," manager Ron Gardenhire said of Martin's slide. "It didn't look like too much, but you know what, the guy caught the ball and he came right down in the basepath. Martin got a nick on him, and the inning continues."

It's a sign of the all-around contribution Martin has given the Tigers since the season began. It's a bigger impact than anyone likely would have imagined when Detroit signed him last fall.

The fact that Sunday marked Martin's first day out of the Tigers' lineup speaks volumes about what he has meant to the club. Though he had two other games off, both came in the second game of doubleheaders after playing every inning in the first games. He began Spring Training in what looked like a potential platoon in center field, and has instead become an everyday catalyst, on the field and in the dugout.

Video: DET@PIT: Martin slides for a five-star catch

"He starts talking and never stops talking," Gardenhire said. "He's hilarious, and he comes to play. The guy comes to play every day. He's game-on, and he wants to win. He's getting after it, and those are the kind of people you like to have around you."

Martin posted a minus-0.3 Wins Above Replacement according to FanGraphs last year between stints with the Mariners and Cubs. He's already at 0.7 fWAR a month into the season.

Hicks hungry for at-bats
John Hicks racked up 190 plate appearances over about a half-season with the Tigers last year. He's currently on pace to fall short of that in a full season with the club this year, leaving Gardenhire searching to find his backup catcher at-bats.

Hicks started behind the plate Sunday for the seventh time this season. He hasn't had any pinch-hit appearances despite his presence as one of the only power bats on the bench. Part of the reason is that Gardenhire doesn't want to use his second catcher and then lose starter James McCann later in a game due to injury.

Video: BAL@DET: Hicks slugs go-ahead three-run homer in 8th

"It's going to get better as we go along," Gardenhire said. "I really believe he'll get more at-bats. It would be nice in some of these situations if you had that extra player that was a catcher, where you could play him at first base and DH Cabby. But we don't have that luxury right now. Do I want to pinch-hit him in the seventh inning of a game and not have any catchers left on a bench? That's dicey."

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.

Detroit Tigers, John Hicks, Leonys Martin