But if you claim to know precisely who will, at any given time, play at first, we’ll have to kill you.
As I’m sure you’ve all heard by now, DaMeat is suffering from some variety of injury in his leg. It’s a ‘strain’ in his left quad, apparently acquired while trying to open up the motor out of first without shifting gears properly. As Lee says, it’s the sort of thing you can expect from a 32-year-old guy who’s put as much strain on his frame as Dmitri has, even if he’s lightened the load somewhat now.
In a perfect shiny tiger-striped world, one of three scenarios would take place.
1. Chris Shelton’s vestigial defensive skills blossom into full, solid, unspectacular but perfectly serviceable play, fueled in part by his burning need for revenge. He will take the vast majority of reps at first base this season, and will end the year with a .300 average. He will take walks, and slug, and Tigers fans will start showing up to the park wearing bright red wigs. Pena and Dmitri will share DH duties, dependant on Dmitri’s wildly oscillating levels of health and Pena’s wildly oscillating ability to make contact with the ball.
2. Carlos Pena will achieve Nirvana and this will allow him to attain that magical state of being, so coveted, so previously elusive: the lofty heights of Consistency. The pendulum of his batting average will finally settle where it has so long hinted it might, and Carlos will actually hit, and hit pretty well. The spectacular defense is already there, making Carlos, with regular playing time, into a legitimate Gold Glove candidate. Shelton will occasionally relieve him at first but will spend nearly every day as a DH. Dmitri will get spot playing time only and will justify his spot on the bench by occasionally tooling about in the outfield, and keeping club morale up with in-dugout pie eating contests.
3. Dmitri Young will start hitting like it’s 2003, and his ability to not fall over at first will be enough to recommend him for the spot. He will get his hair braided into the form of an old English D. Shelton’s bat will earn him the majority of games as the DH and, after a failed experiment with Pena relieving Brandon Inge at third, Carlos will bring his major league expertise to Toledo, where he will lead the Mudhens to another AAA championship, and another year of people unfamiliar with the American Coot wondering what, exactly, a mudhen is.
The likelihood is that none of these will exactly come to pass, but the first one is most probable. It’s hard to not be pessimistic and think that Shelton will have a downturn from last season, but he’s the surest thing we have when it comes to first base. The fact remains that Dmitri has never hit American League pitching as consistently well as he hit National League pitching, and that Pena has never hit consistently up to his alleged ceiling, period.
Shelton, however, hit the hide out of the ball last season, showed a mild interest in walks (making him an odd duck indeed among Tigers), and is buddies with Brandon Inge. I’ve heard him referred to as “Big Red”, “Shelty”, “Junk in the Trunk Shelton”, and the “Albino Rodent of Unusual Size” (AROUS). The star power, clearly, is there.
If DaMeat can’t stay healthy, the job is certainly Shelton’s. Unless Pena remembers how to hit. Or Dmitri doesn’t get hurt much this season. Or Shelton does have a severe return to earth at the plate.
Basically, someone will play at first. And we’re pretty sure it’ll be a Tiger.