Detroit Tigers outfielder Matt Tuiasosopo has never played regularly in the major leagues, but his early-season success has earned him a chance to significantly increase his playing time.
This season, Tuiasosopo has been used in left field and at first base. But with Andy Dirks struggling as the primary left fielder, it is time that Tigers manager Jim Leyland pencils Tuiasosopo's name into the starting lineup.
Dirks has struggled terribly this season and hasn't been able to contribute anything at the plate. In 81 at-bats, he is only hitting .235 with two home runs and seven runs batted in.
This is because Dirks is only hitting .236 when facing right-handed pitchers after being so great last season against them. In 2012, Dirks had hit .336 against righties and helped the Tigers feel confident about making him their primary left fielder in 2013.
But if Dirks can't show a large improvement, then the benefit of him being in the lineup is nullified.
On the other side of equation, and with a much smaller sample size, Tuiasosopo is batting .343 in 35 at-bats and has impressive power that Dirks isn't capable of producing. He's only had two home runs so far, but in spring training, he had four home runs as well.
While Tuiasosopo has only batted .202 in 228 at-bats in his major league career, some hitters develop later in their careers, and his potential power is enough for the Tigers to give him a greater opportunity.
Tuiasosopo may drop off with his batting average, but Dirks isn't giving the Tigers much right now and Leyland needs to ride the hot bat.
With one swing of the bat on May 9, Tuiasosopo changed the dynamic of the game against the Washington Nationals by hitting a pinch-hit three-run home run in a 5-4 Tigers loss. Before that home run, the Tigers were having limited success at the plate, and this gave the Tigers a chance to pull out the win.
Then again, most Tigers fans realize that once prospect Nick Castellanos is ready to contribute for the Tigers on a full-time basis, Tuiasosopo and Dirks will have their at-bats reduced significantly and potentially even lose their roster spots. However, Castellanos is currently struggling at Triple-A, and Tuiasosopo can fill the void temporarily in left field until he is ready for the major leagues.
With the Tigers going all out in their bid to win their first World Series since 1984, management and the coaching staff need to gamble and take chances. Even with Dirks' cold bat, he is considered the safe choice here—which is not the type of choice they need to make.
Tuiasosopo is the wild card, and he represents a low-risk, high-reward gamble for the Tigers. Besides, if Tuiasosopo doesn't work out, then the Tigers still have options.
*All statistics are accurate as of May 9.