Bench key to Tigers' ability to overcome injuries

Bench key to Tigers' ability to overcome injuries

Bench key to Tigers' ability to overcome injuries
DETROIT -- Whenever the Tigers' misfortune with incapacitating postseason injuries is mentioned -- Magglio Ordonez is out, while Delmon Young and Victor Martinez are hobbled -- knowledgeable fans clear their throats to offer an addendum:

What about Brennan Boesch, the starting corner outfielder who went down for the year with a thumb injury at the end of August?

A legitimate point, and yet another case that bears out Detroit manager Jim Leyland's philosophy: Use your bench liberally all season, because there's no telling when you'll have to depend on those players.

The Tigers have gotten to that point in the American League Championship Series. Ordonez's fractured right ankle and Young's strained left oblique have turned part-timers Don Kelly, Ryan Raburn and Andy Dirks into starters.

And they have responded, answering the call because they had been getting it all summer.

"Obviously, you would like to have all your big guys out there, but I'm not afraid to play anybody," Leyland said. "I think we've shown that the whole season. When injuries are involved, the fact that some of these guys have had at-bats helps."

More Tigers than is typical have had significant at-bats. Sixteen different Detroit players logged 100-plus plate appearances during the regular season. By comparison, ALCS foe Texas had only a dozen players log that many.

In-season injuries and personnel decisions contributed to the Tigers' distribution of at-bats. For instance, when slumping Brandon Inge was demoted to the Minors in mid-July, Wilson Betemit took over as the regular third baseman for a month.

But a bigger factor was Leyland's commitment to keeping everyone sharp. Perhaps it takes a secure, veteran manager to realize the benefits of not riding the same nine men too hard.

"Some people have the tendency to think that when you play your regulars every day, you win every game," Leyland said. "It doesn't work that way. A lot of people ... when you take somebody out, they get a little nervous about it.

"But this is why you play your entire roster. It doesn't mean they're going to do good necessarily, but at least they have had some action. I think it pays dividends."

The dividend in Game 2 was a three-run homer by Raburn, who was in Ordonez's shoes in right. The dividend in Game 3's 5-2 victory was a single in the middle of a two-run sixth by Dirks, who had taken over in right as Raburn shifted into Young's place in left.

Tom Singer is a national reporter for MLB.com. Follow @Tom_Singer on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.