Time for Alex Avila to Take a Toledo Sabbatical

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Time for Alex Avila to Take a Toledo Sabbatical
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Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander poses with team owner Mike Ilitch (center) and Alex Avila to …

COMMENTARY | It's a painful assessment for an organization to make.

When the player that needs to be sent down is an established major-leaguer with an All-Star game to his credit, anyone with half a heart would rightly take pause. Sending him down, however, is exactly what the Detroit Tigers must do with catcher Alex Avila.

Avila and his plate woes have turned into the proverbial "riddle wrapped up in a mystery inside an enigma." 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 more than cause for concern. They require action, for the good of Avila and the good of the team.

According to a report in the Detroit News, when asked about the possibility of a trip to AAA Toledo for Avila, Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski said, "I do not have any set answer on that. We continue to watch him daily and hope he will soon snap out of this tough streak."

Perhaps foreshadowing the inevitable, manager Jim Leyland told MLB.com, "I don't want to indicate that Alex isn't our catcher, because he is our catcher. But somehow we've got to get him going. At some point, I have to do something. Sit him down for two days. Sit him down for three days. Go every other day for a while."

Not only is Avila currently on a 1-for-23 slide, for the year he is batting .174 in 115 at-bats. Most alarming, though, is that his on-base-percentage is a paltry .256. Once vaunted for his discerning eye, Avila is now striking out almost three times for every walk he receives.

Brayan Pena has stepped in admirably as Avila's backup. He's hitting at a .300 clip, but the switch-hitter is much stronger from the left side (.423) than from the right (.206).

Right-handed hitting Bryan Holaday is currently on a tear at Toledo (.353 over his last 17 games) and would seem to be a good candidate to platoon with Pena behind the plate. Like Pena, Holaday -- who was more than respectable during a brief stint in Detroit last summer -- is solid defensively with an above-average arm. Also like Pena, he would be another new receiver for Tigers' pitchers to become accustomed to.

Highly touted Ramon Cabrera, also at AAA Toledo, is a prospect for the future but not for today.

For all of his struggles at the plate, Avila knows the staff better than anyone, and both starters and relievers seem comfortable with him behind the plate. But the team can't afford to carry a sub-.200 bat in the lineup for long. As painful as it may be for the Tigers to send him down, it's just as painful to see him struggle so mightily.

At this point, it is the only reasonable solution for all concerned.

A lifelong follower of the Detroit Tigers, Mike has covered sports, automotive, 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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