COMMENTARY | By all accounts, Detroit Tigers catcher Alex Avila is a great guy.
Respected by teammates, opposing players and umpires alike, and the new father of a baby girl who is clearly the apple of his eye, he is easy to root for. And while fans can't ever really know players beyond what they see on the field, or what they might learn from the occasional sound bite, Avila's baseball pedigree shines through.
His dad, Al, is a front office executive with the Tigers, and grandfather Ralph Avila is a retired vice president of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Avila understands the game and how it should be played, and he knows that at the end of the day it's about getting the job done. All of which makes it so difficult for most fans to witness his extended struggle to hit.
According to an MLB.com, Tigers manager Jim Leyland "didn't mince words" when talking about Avila. "He's struggling," Leyland said before Wednesday's game with the Seattle Mariners. "He hit early today. We'll see if he can get him going."
Leyland scratched Avila from what turned out to be a 14-inning marathon that the Tigers ultimately won 2-1. The rest didn't pay immediate dividends, however. Avila was back in the lineup the next day and was 0-for-3 -- his batting average sliding to a dismal .163 with two home runs, two RBIs, 15 Ks and only two walks.
Avila's plate woes are a mystery. He has hit in the past, finishing his 2011 All-Star season at a more-than-respectable .295 with 19 home runs and 82 RBIs. But, in 2012, he slumped to .243, 9 and 48, respectively, and his early struggles this year have become cause for concern.
Not to be overlooked are Avila's other contributions. To his credit, he has not let his slump at the plate have a negative impact on his play behind it. He does a solid job blocking pitches in the dirt. He is quick to get out of his crouch and field his position. He has an above-average arm, and he handles pitchers and game situations with aplomb.
Avila has had a reputation as a mechanically sound hitter. He has a short, efficient stroke, hits to all fields with power, and has an excellent eye. Lately, however, he looks confused and clearly frustrated. At 26, he should be coming into his prime -- a fact that makes the slow but steady decline in his offensive production even more puzzling.
Avila has no doubt been inundated with advice on how to recapture his previous form, and his teammates, the organization and the fans that root so hard for him hope that it's simply a matter of putting together a few good games to get him back on track. But if the baseball gods should decide a little divine hitter intervention is in order, they'd be hard pressed to find a candidate more worthy than Avila.
The author is a lifelong follower of the Detroit Tigers. He has covered sports, automotive, state and local government and interfaith issues for publications and websites including "The Detroit News," Internet Auto Guide, Opposing Views, American Thinker, Examiner and A Common Word.
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