Torii Hunter has been on the shelf for the past week with a hamstring injury, and is on the verge of returning to the lineup. He's yet to make it back on the field, but is ready for pinch-hitting duty. Even when fully healthy, from here on out Hunter may be spending more time on the bench than he's ever been accustomed.
Thanks to the emergence of J.D. Martinez and Andy Dirks' recovery from back surgery nearing the next step of an injury rehab assignment, Hunter remaining the Tigers' full-time right fielder is has become a point of speculation.
Hunter's offensive production has dropped off a cliff from his Silver Slugger winning 2013, hitting .266/.290/.441 this season. Despite being third on the team in home runs and RBI, Hunter's numbers have been trending steadily down since a hot start to the season. On May 5, Hunter topped out at .333/.355/.529 with four home runs and 20 RBI in 25 games. Over the next 35 games, save for the occasional homer, Hunter stopped getting on base. The 18-year-veteran was no longer producing the numbers you need from a corner outfielder, hitting just .213/.239/.370 with five ome runs and 15 RBI. At the same time, Martinez stepped up his game to the point of being named AL Player of the Week. He's hitting so well, manager Brad Ausmus can't remove Martinez from the lineup.
As concerning as his bat has been, it's still too soon to write off Hunter's extended slump as the beginning of the end. Yet the longer the skid goes, so does the benefit of the doubt.
Compounding his struggles is Hunter's once Gold Glove caliber defense has become glaringly bad. At 38 years of age, production declining and in the final year of his contract, Hunter is not the Tigers' right fielder of the future. But he remains in their present plans, though it may be in a reduced role.
Hunter addressed this topic with Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press today. Always the team player, Hunter admitted he would accept a part-time role, if that would be best for the team.
"I will do whatever is best for the team," Hunter said after the Tigers’ three-game sweep in Cleveland. "We’re back to hitting the right groove right now, firing on all cylinders. If that means I have to split time in the field — if that’s in the best interest to help us win — then I’m fine with that. When you get to this point in your career, it becomes a lot easier figuring out what’s most important to you. I want to win."
Sharp notes Hunter made a similar decision with the Los Angeles Angels, voluntarily moving to right field from his long-time position of center. Hunter admitted he couldn't let his ego override what was best for the team.
"You can’t let your pride get the better of you."
Earlier this season, Hunter stated he wanted to play at least two or three more years. But no one can out run Father Time.
Not even Torii Hunter.