Avila to see regular work behind plate
Young catcher will see ample time to give Laird time off
DETROIT -- Alex Avila won't have to wait long after his Major League debut on Thursday to be back in the Tigers lineup. Manager Jim Leyland said he plans to use his young catcher in specific spots of the Tigers rotation, essentially creating a platoon situation behind the plate.
"To start with, I'm going to catch him with [Armando] Galarraga and [Rick] Porcello," Leyland said Thursday morning, "and have Gerald [Laird] catch the other guys. And that's not etched in stone. That's just that I don't want to break him in trying to catch Verlander and Jackson, not that the other guys aren't that good, but they're a little easier to catch. Those guys [Verlander and Jackson] have pretty much been on a roll with Gerald."
The Tigers called up Avila from Double-A Erie after Tuesday's game to help take some of the workload off of Laird, who has already caught more games than he did all of last year. However, it's a little trickier doing that with a 22-year-old rookie who hasn't yet had a full season of pro ball.
Avila worked with pretty much every pitcher on the staff at some point during Spring Training, when he was a non-roster invitee as an extra catcher, and ended up with a strong workload before he was sent to Minor League camp.
"Even though I'm new to the team, I do know most of the guys," Avila said.
That experience makes a difference for him, as does the fact that he was around the Majors for most of his childhood as the son of Tigers vice president Al Avila.
"You have to have the God-given ability," said Brandon Inge, who was a regular catcher out of necessity as a rookie in 2001. "But you see how everything is done and you're relaxed instead of jumpy. He's been able to understand."
Still, he has a lot of work ahead of him. Besides the work he'll put in learning Detroit's pitching staff again, he has the challenge of working on his offense at a level where preparation is critical.
It's a tall challenge, but Avila is ready to take it on.
"All that is fun for me," Avila said. "That's one of the things I enjoyed about catching, staying involved on every play."
How his on-field workload splits up could change over time, Leyland cautioned. But he wants Avila to get his feet wet. To that effect, he hopes to have Avila catch Jackson during his between-starts side session this weekend.
"He won't be catching those guys to start out with," Leyland said.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.