Sore right knee won't keep Avila from playing

Sore right knee won't keep Avila from playing

Sore right knee won't keep Avila from playing
DETROIT -- Alex Avila says everybody's playing through injuries this time of the year, and the Tigers catcher has a point. He looks at one end of the clubhouse and sees Victor Martinez moving gingerly with an intercostal strain, and turns to his left to find Delmon Young playing through an abdominal strain. He also sees Magglio Ordonez devastated by a broken right ankle that has ended his season, and possibly his career.

As long as Avila can bend that painful right knee, he's going to squat behind the plate and catch his pitching staff.

"If we're playing, Alex will be catching," said manager Jim Leyland, halting any speculation Omir Santos could get a start to give Avila a break.

But that doesn't mean Leyland doesn't understand what Avila is going through, or downplays it compared with anyone else.

"Alex is banged up pretty good," Leyland said. "His knee was swelling up not too long ago. Trainers are doing the best they can to take care of that."

They're making the sore patella playable, but it's impossible to ignore.

It's essentially a case of one injury leading to another. When Martinez sprained his left knee on an early August slide at Kansas City, it left him unable to catch. Without another true catcher on the roster, it left Avila catching every inning of 18 consecutive games, and starting in 46 of the Tigers' final 51 contests, including 37 starts in 40 games until the Tigers clinched their first division title since 1987.

The reward was a hot bat that didn't cool until the stretch run, after they had clinched. The cost is being seen now. He's 2-for-29 this postseason, and both his swing and his stride reflect someone who's at less than full mobility.

"He's hurting," Leyland said. "He's gotten banged up all year, but we got in that one stretch where we couldn't do anything about it. He had to catch all those games. That hurt him, and I couldn't do anything about it."

It's too late to do much about it now. With every game critical, he isn't about to get one off, and a day out of the lineup isn't likely to help him. But with a patella injury, Leyland said, it isn't likely to get much worse.

Avila's teammate, Brandon Inge, played through patella tears on both of his knees for the second half the 2009 season before undergoing two surgeries that offseason. Unlike Avila, Inge wasn't squatting behind the plate every day. He was playing third base.

"He's next to me all the time," Inge said. "I've been checking up with him all the time. He's one of those guys who's not going to tell the coaching staff and those guys how bad he's probably really hurting, but he's toughened through it. So I'm trying to make sure he knows not to hurt himself, make sure he's going to still be able to perform and produce for this team."