DETROIT -- Behind the plate, Alex Avila is irreplaceable for the Detroit Tigers. However, being able to hit is equally important to the success of the team and when a team's catcher is having trouble hitting it does not go unnoticed.
"He's important offensively," said Tigers manager Brad Ausmus. "As much as the defense of the catcher and the game-calling of the catcher adds to the team's success, we need Alex (Avila) to swing the bat."
Avila got off to a painfully slow start this season and no one knew it more than Ausmus and Avila. But Tuesday night when the Tigers' bats came alive, Avila went 3-4 with two singles and a double. He accounted for a run and an RBI, and was not struck out in the game.
Avila's performance this week contrasted what he had been hitting as of late and it was refreshing. "Just putting some good wood on the ball and taking advantage of some mistakes," Avila said after Tuesday's game. "Ten at-bats is not a big sample size, but today I saw the ball well and had some good swings."
Avila was hitting a miserable .177/.279/.293 in the first half of the 2013 season. However, following the All-Star break he brought up fond memories of 2011 by batting .303/.376/.500 and battled through being treated like a human pinata behind the plate.
"He would be a huge asset if we could get Alex hot with the bat," Ausmus said. "He will get hot with the bat at some point. We're hoping it's sooner rather than later though. We have a stretch I think of five lefties in six days coming up and pitching against us."
Ausmus made the comment on April 16 following a loss to the Cleveland Indians. It happened to be the first multi-hit game Avila recorded in the 2014 season amid increasing comments regarding his inability to perform at the plate.
But since April 15 Avila has recorded at least one hit in five of his last eight games. Avila had only three runs and two RBI but four of the hits he recorded were doubles which put Avila in scoring position for the next batter. Once he reached base Avila had done his job and it was the responsibility of the next batter to bring him home.
Defensively, Avila continues to take hits behind the plate, but he replaced his titanium catcher's mask with a steel mask following a concussion he suffered last year and it helped lessen the blows to some extent.
While he remains a living magnet for baseballs, Avila continues to catch the games' toughest pitchers and framing those pitches with great skill. Not many catchers can do it on the level that Avila does and make it look so easy.
"He's obviously a much better hitter than he's shown so far (this year), so we're hoping he can snap back into some better at-bats. But his defense, really his game-calling, has been outstanding," Ausmus said of Avila's ability to call a game.
Whether the previous eight games have been the start of a good season for Avila has yet to be determined because it is still early in the season.
One week out of three does not make for a turnaround season performance, however getting consistent at-bats is an important step in the right direction.
Getting Avila to hit with regularity is not going to happen overnight. But Avila has the benefit of a solid second half of the 2013 season sitting in the back of his mind and he has a good taste for what it feels like to be hitting again.
Sometimes, that is exactly what an ailing hitter's bat needs. Avila does not need to be spectacular at the plate, he just needs to be able to put the ball in play. Only time will tell but for now, Avila is consistently hitting. And that is enough.