McCann on the spot for Tigers with Avila injured
DETROIT (AP) After sitting through a 103-minute rain delay, the Detroit Tigers had a chance to win the game when they loaded the bases in the bottom of the ninth.
Rookie James McCann hit a line drive to center that was caught, and the Tigers went on to lose in the 10th.
''You're here for however many hours, going on 12 hours now, to have the ballgame so close to us winning, it's definitely frustrating,'' McCann said afterward.
McCann needn't worry too much about that missed opportunity against Kansas City in Sunday night's game, because it looks like he'll have plenty more chances to make an impact over the next few weeks. Alex Avila, Detroit's regular catcher for the past few seasons, is dealing with a knee problem, and that means McCann will have to play a bigger role than expected at this early stage in his career.
''I think he's up to the task,'' manager Brad Ausmus said. ''To me, he's a mentally strong kid.''
McCann made his major league debut last September, and he looked like the type of player who could help the Tigers this season. Avila has battled concussion problems in recent years. When healthy he's a dependable defensive catcher with decent power, but he's been ineffective against left-handed pitching, and that was an area where McCann seemed capable of providing a boost.
McCann hit .295 in 109 games for Triple-A Toledo last year. So far this season, the 24-year-old catcher has hit .288 for the Tigers. There have been some highs - an inside-the-park home run last month that remains his only career round-ripper. There have also been some lows - a baserunning mishap in the ninth inning of a game last week.
Avila is now on the 15-day disabled list with what the team called a ''loose body'' in his knee. He could face arthroscopic surgery, and he said he's confident he can be ready to play again by the second half of the season.
An additional update on Avila is expected before Tuesday night's game against Minnesota, but it certainly appears that McCann will have a chance to play more. He's appeared in 17 of Detroit's 32 games this year.
''I've always played every day in the minor leagues and in college, so it's not like it's a new situation,'' McCann said. ''It's just a different role.''
McCann was drafted in 2008 by the Chicago White Sox in the 31st round, but he did not sign. After playing college baseball at Arkansas, he was taken in round No. 2 by the Tigers in 2011.
With Avila unavailable, the Tigers brought up 27-year-old catcher Bryan Holaday, but the expectation is that the job is McCann's for now. He's held his own so far, but it's hard to say whether he'll flourish or struggle while playing more regularly.
''Maybe he plays more and gets hot and hits better,'' Ausmus said. ''Maybe he plays more and they start finding his holes, and he's got to make an adjustment.''
McCann's performance is significant for the Tigers for a couple reasons. They've remained near the top of the AL Central despite an injury to Justin Verlander, and Avila's knee issue will test their depth some more. Also, while Detroit has been able to use its farm system to trade for established players, the Tigers haven't been known for developing their own position players lately.
Third baseman Nick Castellanos is one young player who came up through Detroit's system. Avila is another. As a younger, cheaper player on a team full of high-priced stars, any production McCann can add this season will be a welcome bonus.
That's true no matter how much he plays.
''Added pressure, I wouldn't say,'' McCann said. ''Whether you're playing once a week or every day, when you're in the lineup it's your job to produce.''