Originally posted on Fox Sports Detroit  |  By DANA WAKIJI  |  Last updated 9/15/13
DETROIT -- You could hear the loud cheering and chanting from outside the clubhouse as the Tigers welcomed Sunday's hitting hero Alex Avila when he came off the field. "We got a little ritual that we do after games," Avila said, declining to elaborate. "We've been having a lot of fun the last few days. It's definitely nice to contribute to a win, especially this time of the year." Everyone remembers the way Avila played in 2011. If he's returning to that form, it could pay big dividends for the Tigers going forward. In 2011, Avila made the All-Star team by batting .295 with 19 home runs, 33 doubles and 82 RBIs. His OPS was .895. Then Avila ran into knee problems and concussion issues and his numbers suffered. This season Avila went on the disabled list with a left forearm contusion and then sat out with a concussion. But Avila made everyone forget his struggles Sunday with two home runs, accounting for all three runs in the Tigers' 3-2 victory over the Kansas City Royals. "I feel like since I came off the DL the first time I've been swinging the bat well," Avila said. "Since the All-Star break, I've been swinging the bat pretty well. Just trying to hit the ball hard. There's nothing that I changed, there's no magic or secret to it, I'm just having some luck, some good swings and hitting the ball hard, really." The numbers bear that out. Before the All-Star break, Avila was batting .177 with six home runs and 21 RBIs in 58 games. Since the All-Star break, Avila is batting .313 with five home runs and 24 RBIs in 31 games. Overall, Avila is hitting .222. "If you look at Alex, it's been kind of a freak year," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "The average hasn't been what he's wanted, but he has done damage with his hits. If you put together the RBIs and combination of our catchers, it's actually pretty good. "For his average, he's driven in a few runs, which isn't too bad. If you combine him and Pena, the RBIs for those guys for catchers, that's pretty good." Backup catcher Brayan Pena is batting .306 with four home runs and 22 RBIs in 65 games. It might be a bit of an odd statistic but the Tigers are 56-30 when Avila starts and just 25-28 when Pena starts. Avila, who became a catcher late in his college career at Alabama, has developed into a solid defensive catcher who works well with the pitching staff. So it's no surprise that Max Scherzer, despite not getting his 20th win in his fourth try, was thrilled for Avila's success. "I was so happy for him," Scherzer said. "Its great when you see a guy start to pick it up in the second half, and really start to do good things for our team. To be able to hit two home runs today, and two really big home runs, really meant a lot to our game today, because of his production at the plate. "I know he takes a lot of pride in how he catches, defensively, and how he handles himself (behind the plate) thats probably the most important thing to him. "If hes able to hit the ball like that, thats only a bonus for us, offensively." Avila hit a two-run home run in the second and then looked for another in the eighth off of Jeremy Guthrieafter the Royals had tied the game at 2 on a wild pitch. "Sometimes you might take a swing to see if you can do some damage," Avila said. "That was a swing I just said, OK, it's 1-1 count, if I get something up I'm going to try and hit it very hard. I happened to connect." Add Avila's second-half play to the fact that Omar Infante has also been good (.325 with 13 runs, five doubles, three home runs and 18 RBIs) since coming off the disabled list and the Tigers' bottom part of the order is getting better. Another plus for the Tigers is that Avila says his health is great. "I definitely do feel pretty good right now, probably as healthy as I've been at the end of the year in the last couple years," he said. Avila is also as even-keel a person as you'll ever find. He might be 26 years old but he acts much more mature than his age. So just as his early struggles didn't faze him, he's not jumping up and down about his recent success. "I'm capable of it. I always knew that," Avila said. "It's just a matter of kind of sticking to what got me here, what gave me success. Sometimes you're going to struggle, sometimes you're going to have games like this. Either way you've got to move on to the next day."
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