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 Avila will start season in Majors

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PostSubject: Avila will start season in Majors   Tue Mar 30, 2010 8:52 pm

Avila will start season in Majors
Veteran catcher Diaz assigned to Minor League camp

By Jason Beck / MLB.com

03/30/10 10:29 AM ET

LAKELAND, Fla. -- The Tigers' catcher of the future will be their backup catcher of the present. Alex Avila will open the season in the big leagues, the Tigers decided on Tuesday morning.

The move became official once the team assigned veteran backup catcher Robinzon Diaz to Minor League camp. Avila received the call from his father, Detroit assistant general manager Al Avila, on Monday night.

The Tigers also optioned shortstop Brent Dlugach to Triple-A Toledo, and infielder/outfielder Jeff Larish and relievers Josh Rainwater and Robbie Weinhardt were assigned to Minor League camp. The moves reduce the Tigers' roster to 27 players; the club has until Sunday to finalize its 25-man roster but is expected to do that within the next day or two.

The moves with Dlugach and Larish narrow the battle for the final positional roster spot to utilityman Don Kelly and outfielder Clete Thomas. That decision could come in the next 24 hours. The one decision left after that is the pitching staff: Dontrelle Willis, Jeremy Bonderman and Nate Robertson are battling for the final two spots in the rotation.

For the backup catching spot, the choice was essentially a decision on Avila, who has had only one full season as a pro after converting to catcher a few years ago at the University of Alabama. Avila started at DH on Monday against the Blue Jays and went 2-for-3 with a double and a walk in what should be his final action before he finds out where he'll open the season. The Tigers know that he can hit in the big leagues, and his .394 average this spring hasn't disappointed.

The Tigers had to make their best judgment as to whether Avila was better off catching a couple of days per week in Detroit behind starter Gerald Laird or catching every day at Toledo.

Diaz was essentially the backup option if the Tigers chose the latter.

Avila spent the final two months of the 2009 season with the Tigers and provided an offensive boost with his left-handed power bat. However, he caught only sparingly in September behind Laird, whose defense and game-calling skills made him a regular option despite his offensive struggles.

Laird has shown strong signs of being a better hitter this spring, but the Tigers still value Avila for his bat. He'll also likely work on his catching on the side in Detroit.

Two of the three rotation candidates start on Tuesday. While Bonderman starts a Triple-A game at Tigertown, Willis will be with the big club facing the Orioles in Sarasota, Fla. It will be his first road start of the spring, and it will be a good test if the Tigers need it to make their decisions.

Robertson is scheduled to make his final spring tuneup on Thursday against the Braves at Joker Marchant Stadium. By then the decision will most likely have been made. What happens with the guy who doesn't make the rotation, whoever that is, is another matter.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


“It takes pitching, hitting and defense. Any two can win. All three make you unbeatable.”    
–Joe Garagiola
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