For months, people have been waiting for Alex Avila to come around at the plate. With an average hanging around .220, it hasn't exactly happened for the catcher.
Thursday, though, Avila showed signs of pulling through his trouble, contributing two important RBI's in a 3-2 win over the New York Yankees. Early, Avila connected on a sacrifice fly to put Detroit on top. Then, he clubbed the game winning hit off Shawn Kelley in the bottom of the ninth.
For Avila, the final hit was notable for two reasons. One, it came with runners on base and the game hanging in the balance, obviously. Two, it came after a pair of other Tigers had failed to get the job done. Both Nick Castellanos and Torii Hunter had struck out, leading to concerns that Detroit's offense would once again squander the opportunity to break through in a big spot.
In those situations during 2014, Avila has come up small, often striking out or failing to make productive contact. The fact he went first pitch swinging and came away with a hot shot was notable. Additionally, the fact he made a productive out early was also important. Two good at-bats produced runs.
"I was happy for him," Brad Ausmus said afterwards regarding Avila's big hit. "We talked about it since spring training, if he drives in some runs for us, we feel our offense could be boosted quite a bit. He's had his hot and cold streaks, but as of late, he's swung the bat better." Avila hasn't with consistency, so an offense which could break out routinely scuffles along. There's been plenty of other issues with the lineup, but it seems like Avila always looms largest.
Ausmus admitted Avila's been putting in some extra work around the batting cages with hitting coach Wally Joyner to iron out a notable flaw in his swing.
"He has a bit of a mechanical issue when he goes forward, he drifts off his back leg and I think he takes he head off the ball a lot," Ausmus said. "He and Wally (Joyner) have been working over the last three weeks on really staying back over the back side. I think we're seeing the fruits of his labor so to speak."
Often times, aside from such mechanical tweaks, all it takes in baseball is one good swing and one big moment to power through such trouble. Suddenly, confidence is easy to come by. The ball looks bigger, the bat swings through more effortlessly and mechanics are forgotten.
If Avila becomes a positive force in the lineup again, Thursday afternoon could end up being the watershed moment why. It would be a huge development for a Tigers' offense that's missed his clutch offensive impact most of 2014.
Max DeMara is the editor of @tigers_101. Follow the site there on Twitter, or like it on Facebook to connect with him.
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