DETROIT -- It's just one game. But a 7-3 win was the start the Detroit Tigers needed to get the second half of the 2015 season underway. It was an odd one, for sure. J.D. Martinez played the part of the defensive wizard. Jose Iglesias mirrored that of a prototypical slugger. Ian Kinsler made one sparkling defensive play but misplayed two others. The bullpen was properly managed.
"Well, that's why we have (Iglesias), to hit homers," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said, attempting to finish the statement with a straight face. He almost made it before he and the press room collapsed in laughter. "He does actually -- if you watch him on a daily basis take batting practice, he certainly has the ability to go deep. He actually has a quick bat. It's just not his game. But that was a big home run tonight."
Iglesias' quickness may not limited to his bat. But his defense is typically where Iglesias shines, as was later demonstrated. Asked about his own power, Iglesias was at least able to say it with a straight face ... before smirking at the end. "Yeah he's right," Iglesias remarked before continuing. "I mean, you're never looking for one. Just trying to put up some quality at-bats, have pretty good swing consistency, and eventually it's going to happen."
To start this part of the season with a solid win was a breathe of fresh air. When a team rests at the .500 mark, it has the ability to breed mediocrity. But even with Anibal Sanchez on the mound without his best stuff, the offense and defense kept the Tigers in the lead. The defensive highlights weren't the sole possession of Iglesias, though. But for J.D., it was a particularly interesting night on defense.
"It's really not my game, but I'll take it," Martinez said. "Anytime a guy, especially a lefty, hits a ball like that, that's the hardest play in baseball, is a line drive right at you. You don't know if it's gonna top spin or back spin. I was trying to read it, read it, read it, and probably about 50 feet in front of me, that's when I realized OK this balls' backspun.
"But that was when I was in the midst of already reading it, I didn't have time to get back on it. So, I just had to run at it and jump before it got too high."
Could he classify that as the best catch of his career, though? J.D. wasn't sure, but it definitely ranks up near the top. Whether it was or not, Sanchez was grateful, personally thanking Martinez as the team went back to the dugout after that first catch to rob the home run in the third. Had it been a home run, it would have been Sanchez's 20th home run allowed this season, which would have tied a career-high for homers allowed in a single season. Instead, it was an inning-ending save.
Martinez has become one of the best defensive right fielders in baseball, a stark contrast to the mediocre glove that the Tigers saw during the 2014 season. Ausmus, however, accredits part of the improvement to Martinez's ability to stay in one position, as opposed to when he was moved all over the place last year.
"He's really gotten better and better at right field," Ausmus said. "We moved him around a little bit last year, right field, and this year since spring training he's been in right field. I think he's got a comfort level with it, especially at Comerica Park. He knows where the wall is, he knows the angles. He just seems more at ease out there than he did a year ago."
That's not to say that Martinez's home run in the fifth should be overlooked. The homer marked his 26th of the year, tying him for the American League lead along with Angels Mike Trout and Albert Pujols. The homer also marked his 60th RBI, more than both Trout and Pujols, and tied with Blue Jays' Jose Bautista for the fourth-highest total in the AL.
For his part offensively, though, J.D. Martinez doesn't really have to worry about Iglesias challenging his power with the bat.
"Pssh, yeah right," Martinez cracked up. "A lot of weird stuff happened today."
As long as it keeps the team in the win column, the Tigers likely won't mind having a few more weird nights. As long as they can avoid shaky outings on the pitching side of things. But considering how the first half went, it was a refreshing win, and a good sign to see a lighthearted clubhouse.