Newcomer Alex Avila fitting in well with Arizona Diamondbacks
SCOTTSDALE — When Chris Iannetta opted to sign with the Colorado Rockies this offseason, the Arizona Diamondbacks found themselves in relatively desperate need of a catcher.
The Diamondbacks were able to sign veteran free-agent catcher Alex Avila.
Avila, an eight-year MLB veteran, was a 2011 AL All-Star with the Detroit Tigers. He is a career .243 hitter, and he looks to be the primary candidate to be the Diamondbacks’ starting catcher in a clubhouse where he will look to fit right in.
“Every time that I see him, he is expressing himself, which is always important to me,” Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo said. “These players feel comfortable enough to tell everybody what’s on their mind.
“The interactions (with teammates) have been normal and easy, and he has taken a leadership role that’s going to allow him to participate and catch as many games as he possibly can.”
Along with Avila, Jeff Mathis is returning from last year’s postseason run, and Chris Herrmann and John Ryan Murphy are the other catchers on the Diamondbacks’ 40-man roster.
Lovullo noted that Herrmann could see time at first base in addition to his catching duties this season, leaving Avila and Mathis to see a bulk of the time behind home plate.
Avila has dealt with concussion issues during the past couple seasons, but he has proven to be a steady player when healthy.
With Avila’s left-handed bat, Mathis and Avila could prove to be a steady one-two punch over the course of a grueling 162-game season, and they will handle a Diamondbacks pitching staff that tallied a 3.66 team ERA last season.
“When you are a catcher in spring training in a major league camp, it’s not the most glamorous or fun job during spring training just with the amount of pitchers and bullpens,” Avila said. “So we kind of have our own little group that we get to go to battle with every single day. We hang out, go to dinners and feed off of each other a little bit. I have played against Jeff for quite a while now, so we have kind of known each other through that, but getting to know him (now), we are very similar in our personality and the way we kind of do things, so it’s been a good marriage so far.”
As for any of the Diamondbacks pitchers who Avila is looking forward to catching, the veteran noted that he is looking forward to handling the entire staff, and he was excited to join a group of guys who accumulated so much success last season.
“I don’t have any favorites, but it’s a pretty talented group of pitchers,” Avila said. “I have pretty much caught almost everybody up to this point already, and it’s just a matter of multiple repetitions with the guys. Everybody has been great to work with.”
Avila is originally from Hialeh, Fla., and he played his high school baseball in Fort Lauderdale. During the offseason, the veteran spent time with his family, and he got a chance to catch up on a few of his favorite hobbies.
“I like to fish and I do a lot of off-shore fishing,” Avila said. “I still live down there (in south Florida), so when I can in the offseason, I like to go fishing, but other than that, my world revolves around my kids, so it’s whatever they got going on or whatever activities they have.”
As for those activities, Avila said that he stays busy, venturing from swim classes to soccer and gymnastics practices with his two daughters, Avery and Zoey.
Avila noted that he prefers to fish in salt water, and although he doesn’t have salt water areas to fish in Arizona, the catcher will look to reel in something else — wins, in what appears to be one of the tougher divisions in baseball this season.
“I don’t know the breakdown as far as games played between the catchers that we do have, but he’s going to get substantial time,” Lovullo said of Avila. “We are counting on that, and I love the leadership role and the comfort that he is showing right now.”
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