Salty providing pop from bottom of lineup

April 17th, 2016

HOUSTON -- The Tigers' lineup has featured a fearsome middle third for more than a half-decade now, but catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia is extending that threat down the lineup this season.

Saltalamacchia boomed a go-ahead two-run shot in the sixth inning on Saturday, propelling Detroit all the way back from an early three-run deficit and to a 5-3 win over Houston. The victory further cements this team's April reputation as having a lineup always capable of a comeback, with no outs even close to guaranteed for an opposing pitcher.

Saltalamacchia dug out a 2-2 offering from Houston starter Collin McHugh and clanked a towering shot off the right-field foul pole with Nick Castellanos on base. He also cranked a second-inning ground-rule double to nearly the same spot; it's his second game with a double and a home run this season.

"I don't think that's going to happen all the time, but I'm fortunate enough to have guys on base; I'm fortunate enough to have the opportunity," Saltalamacchia said. "In the past I've never really had that in the seven-hole. It goes to show how deep our lineup is and how many guys are grinding away."

Twenty-two of Saltalamacchia's 101 career home runs have been of the go-ahead variety, including all three this season, and two with his team down a run in the sixth inning over the past four days.

His OPS sits at 1.019, nearly .300 points above his career average, and he already has 10 RBIs in just 22 at-bats.

"He's come up with some big hits," manager Brad Ausmus said. "We knew he had some power, and he's shown it to us early, and I'm hoping he continues to do something similar to what he's been doing while [James McCann] is on the DL."

Saltalamacchia played in only 79 games during a frustrating and injury-plagued 2015 season, bouncing between the Marlins and D-backs. He hit just nine home runs and 15 doubles, his lowest slugging totals since a similarly abbreviated 2010 campaign. He looked nothing like the power threat he was during his years in Boston.

But his hot start to the 2016 season indicates that 2015 may have been more a blip than a trend, and he says he's more comfortable in Detroit's potent lineup.

"I'm not trying to do too much," he said. "I learned a lot about myself last year, trying to take what's given to me. Just so happens the home runs have been there.

"I'm loving it. I'm in a great situation over here with a great group of guys in this organization and excited to contribute."

Saltalamacchia was on a Boston team in 2013 famous for its comeback efforts, its ability to stare down deficits and win on walk-offs and late home runs, and relentlessly putting the bat on the ball.

It's only April, but Saltalamacchia can feel that this team puts the same constant pressure on opposing pitchers as that Red Sox team three seasons ago, though he isn't taking individual credit for it.

"I don't know if it's developing," he said when asked if he sees that dogged attitude on this club. "It's been here long before I got here, because these guys are good hitters. It's not an easy lineup to call a game for. But I can see the way things are shaping up. Guys are going to pitch around [Miguel Cabrera], [Victor Martinez is] going to do his job, [J.D. Martinez is] doing great and [Castellanos has] been swinging it. One-through-9, we've been pretty good.

"It's just trusting each other. Nobody feels any pressure like they have to be the one to do it."

It was Salty's turn in Houston, and the Tigers are still near the top of the American League Central in the early going thanks to the once-backup catcher's surprising pop.