Throughout most of the season, the Detroit Tigers have been able to get by with having only two left-handed hitters in Don Kelly and Alex Avila and two switch-hitters in Victor Martinez and Andrew Romine. For the most part, Martinez has been the Tigers’ only truly dependable source of left-handed punch against right-handed pitching in 2014.
Avila has hit eight home runs, including one that lifted the Tigers over the New York Yankees Tuesday night, but he is batting only .219 and has struck out in 32.4 percent of his plate appearances. Romine is only hitting .185 with two home runs and six RBIs from the left side of the plate, and Kelly is batting .254 with zero homers and four RBIs in 114 at-bats, which hardly qualifies for getting the job done.
When the Tigers acquired David Price from the Tampa Bay Rays in a three-way deal, however, sending Drew Smyly and Austin Jackson to the Rays and Seattle Mariners, respectively, it did create a window for the team to call up lefty swinging Ezequiel Carrera, who was slashing .307/.387/.422 in Triple-A Toledo. Thus far in Detroit, he has batted .333 (4-for-12), but that is a rather small sample size. Carrera entered the season as a .251 career hitter in MLB, and he will need a few more at-bats at the big league level before it can be determined whether or not the Tigers have captured lightning in a bottle with him like they did with J.D. Martinez. One thing is for sure, though; Carrera sure can play some defense.
As a team, the Tigers have performed better against lefties than righties, hitting .284 with a .792 OPS against LHP compared to .270 with a .743 OPS against RHP. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to have another left-handed bat to throw into the mix against right-handed pitching. It would have been great if the Tigers could have picked up another piece from the Rays and acquired the versatile, switch-hitting Ben Zobrist or lefty swinging outfielder Matt Joyce when they made the trade for Price. While neither are exactly sluggers, per se, either would have been a vast improvement over every left-handed hitter or switch-hitter the Tigers have who is not named Victor Martinez.
The Tigers are, however, still hoping to get left-handed outfielder Andy Dirks back at some point. Dirks was lost to a back injury in Spring Training and has yet to play in the majors this season. But his progress seems to be going very slowly, and the Tigers do seem to be placing a lot of faith in a guy who is coming back from surgery and had a down year in 2013.
The Tigers’ lack of left-handed hitting is not a new concern. Many raised worries about the Tigers’ deficit of lefties before the season even started after the team traded Prince Fielder to the Texas Rangers and well before Dirks’ injury was ever reported. If the Tigers are fortunate enough to make the postseason for the fourth consecutive season, they may wish they had acquired an impact left-handed bat to go up against some of the formidable right-handed pitchers they are liable to run into.
Perhaps Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski will pull a waiver wire deal out of his sleeve and surprise everyone yet again. If that does turn out to be the case, hopefully the Tigers will have better luck this time around than they did with Aubrey Huff in August of 2009.