Alex Avila is justifying Detroit's faith in making him its regular catcher.
Disappointed in Gerald Laird's hitting, the Tigers jettisoned him at the end of last season and turned the job of running the pitching staff over to a young man from a baseball-steeped family despite the fact he was a relative newcomer to catching.
The depth of the organization's faith was shown by the fact they signed veteran Victor Martinez as the backup, intending to have him be the designated hitter while Avila caught mostly against right-handers.
The only experienced fallback was Omir Santos, signed to a minor league contract and now backing up Avila while Martinez is injured.
Manager Jim Leyland has had Avila in there against left-handers in the interim, except for one game, and the youngster has responded with a hot spell that has him batting .321 with three home runs and 14 RBI.
"I'm recognizing pitches that I can handle and drive," Avila said. "But at the same time, I'm laying off those tough pitchers' pitches that normally get guys out. And I've been able to capitalize on mistakes."
Said Leyland: "He's getting more confidence by the day. You just have to keep taking your time and let the procedure happen, keep getting his feet wet, keep getting him experience."
Avila did not catch until his junior year at Alabama and Detroit drafted him after that season. Following a short stay in the minors, he was brought up at the end of 2009 for a quick look. He was the apprentice to Laird last season and now is the regular.
His father, Al, is assistant to general manager Dave Dombrowski in the Tigers' front office and his grandfather, Ralph, was a legendary scout for the Dodgers, so Alex has been around baseball all his life. His godfather is Tommy Lasorda.
It is, as Leyland likes to say, a process.
"A lot has to do, I think, with learning the league last year, learning about myself and how I react in certain situations and just adjust," Avila said. "It's a tough game, and there's a definite learning process for young players, especially catchers."
Added Leyland: "I think he's got (the pitchers') confidence. When you get three hits and knock in runs, you'll get their confidence in a hurry. That always helps."
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