When Alex Avila boarded the Detroit Tigers’ flight to Boston on Friday, he was still wearing the effects from his two-car pileup at the plate with David Ross.
He boarded the plane at almost the same time as manager Jim Leyland, who could see the lingering aches.
“He’s a little sore,” Leyland said.
Whether a beat-up Avila will be able to play in Game 6 of the American League Championship series Saturday is still uncertain, said Leyland, and with the Tigers facing elimination, Leyland must weigh what to do with his lineup based on his starting catcher’s health.
“It will be a big factor, whether he plays or not, it will obviously affect us some,” Leyland said. “I don’t think there will be anything tricky. It will pretty much be using what we’ve used the last couple of days, depending on Alex’s health. I don’t look for any major changes or anything, any major surprises.”
Even though Leyland replaced Avila with Brayan Pena in Game 5, he said he has considered putting Victor Martinez behind the plate if Avila can’t play Saturday, sliding Miguel Cabrera (who is also banged up) from third base to designated hitter, and putting either Ramon Santiago or Don Kelly at third.
“That has been thought about,” he said. “But I don’t want to, particularly this time of year with the significance of everything and then so much media, once you mention something like that, it’s all over the wires that Martinez might catch.
“That’s not true. I hope nobody starts writing that, because it’s not true. But it would be an option, let me put it that way. It would be an option.”
Even though Martinez has spent the majority of his career behind the plate, he’s caught only 29 games since the start of the 2011 season, including three this year.
Leyland understood that even the idea of making that kind of switch in a game with such ramifications would draw attention, which he wanted to avoid.
But when asked what factors would go into choosing his catcher should Avila need to be replaced in the lineup, Leyland could see the ball already rolling.
“This is the problem, see, we’re getting started already,” Leyland said. “And I tried to stop that when you first asked the question, and now you want more. I have no idea what’s going to happen. I hope Alex is going to catch.
“That decision will be way down the road yet within the next 12, 14 hours. So I’m not going to get into that because the lines are going to light up now, so that’s what we’re trying to avoid. We’ll make that decision.”
After Ross collided with Avila trying to score on a Shane Victorino chopper in the second inning of the Sox’ 4-3 win in Game 5, Ross gave Avila at pat on the backside, catcher to catcher.
“I hope he’s going to be OK and can play,” said Ross, who, like Avila, spent time on the concussion disabled list in the regular season. “It was an unfortunate play, the way it happened.”
An inning later, a 3-and-2 changeup went wild on Tigers starter Anibal Sanchez, and Avila tried unsuccessfully to block it. Mike Napoli scored on the play, giving the Sox a 4-0 lead.
In his crouch, it was clear Avila was leaning on his right side, taking some of the pressure off his left knee.
In the fourth inning, Ross fouled a ball hard off Avila’s mask, sending the catcher reeling.
“He got smoked pretty good,” Leyland said. “And because of the previous issues that he’d had, I was also a little concerned about that. But the trainers checked him out. There did not appear to be any issues, but it does ring your bell a little bit, obviously.”
In the bottom of the fourth, Leyland had Pena hit for Avila.
“The wild pitch, nobody could have stopped that ball,” Leyland said. “The fact that we took him out was because the knee was throbbing, the pain wasn’t any worse one inning after the next, but it was throbbing pretty good.
“It was obvious that he was hurting pretty good. He said he could stay in, but actually I made the decision —
Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia empathized with the knocks Avila took.
“You never want to see anybody get hurt, especially a guy like him who has been a guy that’s a frontline [player] for them the past few years,” Saltalamacchia said.
“He’s a competitor. He’s a guy in that lineup you fear. Having him in that lineup makes that lineup better. You never want to see a guy get hurt like that and hopefully he’s OK. You always want to play the best.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.