Monday the Detroit Tigers entered the ninth inning down 5-1, with four of their best hitters set to bat. A last chance rally with no outs put them within one, but the Tigers ultimately came up short as they fell to the Pirates 5-4 in Pittsburgh. If Tigers manager Brad Ausmus had played it another way, though, the result might not have been the same and Detroit could have remained undefeated.
In his postgame interview on Fox Sports Detroit, Ausmus said he considered having Victor Martinez pinch hit in the seventh, but thought they'd have another chance at getting Martinez an at-bat later on. Ausmus also pointed out Martinez would've been pinch hitting for Jose Iglesias or in place of the pitcher, not Nick Castellanos, who grounded into a double play in the seventh. Ausmus was right in that the opportunity came in the ninth inning.
The Tigers quickly scored three runs off the Pirates' right-handed reliever Mark Melancon in the ninth inning. Back-to-back doubles from Ian Kinsler and Miguel Cabrera were closely followed by a two-run home run by J.D. Martinez. Yoenis Cespedes then reached base with a single to put the tying run on first and the winning run at the plate with no outs.
Ausmus had already used Rajai Davis and Hernan Perez as pinch hitters. With Castellanos, Avila, and Iglesias next in the order, Ausmus had three choices. He chose to pinch hit Martinez for Avila. Castellanos grounded into a double play -- his second -- and then Martinez chased a Melancon offering in the dirt on a full count to end the game.
Avila is typically the target of fan ire due to his low batting average, but with a righthander on the mound, he was a better candidate to bat than Castellanos. And the numbers support the argument.
For his career, Avila sports a 118 wRC+ against righties. Castellanos, meanwhile, owns a career 93 wRC+ mark. So far this season, Castellanos has struggled, hitting just .174. Avila, meanwhile, is hitting .308. In addition, Melancon has a career-FIP a half-run higher against lefties like Avila than against righties like Castellanos.
Ausmus said after the game that he had considered pinch hitting Martinez for Castellanos in the ninth, instead of Avila, but he called Castellanos a "darn good hitter" and chose to give the third baseman the benefit of the doubt.
But while Castellanos may appear to be overall more impressive than Avila at the plate, this far into their respective careers Avila had the advantage in the situation, and therefore deserved the at-bat against Melancon.
It's easy to say after the fact that Ausmus made the wrong decision. There's certainly no guarantee that things would have worked out any differently if Ausmus had pinch hit for Castellanos and allowed Avila to hit.
But had Ausmus done that, there is a higher probability that things would have worked out favorably for the Tigers, and Detroit would not be looking at its first loss of the season just yet.