Sixth-tenths of one percent of the Tigers 2011 season has been played, and already it’s a long one for catcher Alex Avila.
If one game is any indication, the team’s fan base and some folks in the media have targeted the 24-year-old Avila as the Tigers’ whipping boy for 2011.
Avila might be the new Neifi Perez, the latest Jason Grilli.
Avila is being singled out as a symbol for all that ails the Tigers organization, if you were to listen to the crank yankers on cell phones who called in to 97.1 The Ticket yesterday after the Tigers’ Opening Day loss to the Yankees.
Because of his being the son of Tigers assistant GM Al Avila, the younger Avila has even a bigger target on his back.
Avila, after a game in which he struck out three times and failed to block a couple of pitches that enabled Yankees runners to move ahead on the base paths, was propped up as a symptom of the Tigers woes in their personnel department, i.e. lack of depth at crucial positions like catcher.
The wolves were out after yesterday’s game, and most of their anger was directed toward Avila, who becomes the Tigers’ full-time catcher by default, with the departure of Gerald Laird and with free agent signee Victor Martinez slated to be more DH than backstop.
Avila got it from all fronts—from his lack of defensive acumen to his limp noodle bat to the suspected nepotism factor.
By listening to the callers, you’d have thunk that Avila gave up the three-run homer to Mark Teixeira in the third inning, served up the go-ahead rocket by Curtis Granderson, and was at the plate for every one of the at-bats in which the Tigers failed to drive in a run from scoring position.
Even The Ticket’s Mike Valenti and Terry Foster got into the act, using terms like “if Avila doesn’t turn this thing around…”
The game was played on March 31. What will this bloodthirsty mob be like by Memorial Day? Heck, even Easter?
Avila shouldn’t have even been in the lineup, period—according to many of the haters. That actually has a shred of reasoning to it, because the lefty-swinging Avila clearly looked overmatched by the southpaw Yankees starter CC Sabathia.
Another point that is well taken is the one about the Tigers’ lack of depth at catcher, which has been going on since before the team signed Pudge Rodriguez prior to the 2004 season. Precious few prospects have been milled at catcher in the Dave Dombrowski Era. The last decent one that came from the Tigers farm system was Brandon Inge, the team’s current third baseman.
Since then, it’s been the likes of Dane Sardinha, Max St. Pierre and Mike Rabelo.
The Tigers haven’t been able to figure out how to grow catchers, and as I feared would happen once Rodriguez left, that has caught up to them.
Which isn’t young Alex Avila’s fault, of course. The kid is learning on the fly, and the fact is that he is improving, albeit with tiny steps. He had a bad day yesterday, as all big leaguers do from time to time.
But the early indication is that Alex Avila is under the microscope this year, and if he gets off to a tortoise-like start, it could get ugly around Comerica Park. This is a town that still fondly recalls not only Pudge, but Lance Parrish and even Bill Freehan. Mike Heath, right now, is even looking like Johnny Bench.
It was one game, and the overreaction was almost laughable. Not only about Avila, but about Jim Leyland, and Valenti even gently scolded Justin Verlander, who I thought pitched himself out of trouble admirably, albeit trouble of his own making.
It was 1/162 of the season, and at this rate, if the fans don’t pace themselves, they’ll be curled up in a fetal position, gasping for air, before all the Easter Egg hunts start happening around town.