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Martinez could catch early this season in NL parks

LAKELAND, Fla. -- The Detroit Tigers' first road trip of the regular season will be a five-game interleague trek in southern California against the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres.

It will be of extra interest on a couple of levels.

It will be a homecoming trip for Brad Ausmus. The Dodgers were the final team he played for in the majors, in 2009-10.

The Padres are the team for whom Ausmus was working in the front office when the Tigers hired him as manager in November. And Ausmus lives in the San Diego area.

But what might be especially interesting is the lineup card that Ausmus writes for each of those five games. On at least one of them, Victor Martinez could be the catcher.

Martinez is the Tigers' full-time designated hitter. But in NL parks, the DH isn't used. Ausmus said Friday of that five-game trip to the NL parks, "We can't have Victor not play for five straight games."

The manager said that Martinez could catch in at least one of those five games in Los Angeles or San Diego.

"If we face a tough left-handed pitcher, maybe Alex Avila will get a day (off)," Ausmus said.

If Dodgers lefty ace Clayton Kershaw pitches one of those games, that would be an ideal time for the switch-hitting Martinez to play instead of the lefty-swinging Avila.

Martinez, at the suggestion of Ausmus, already has the catcher's gear on in spring training to prepare for that trip to L.A. and San Diego. Martinez caught in three games last season, all late in the year, two in the National League.

Could Miguel Cabrera move from first base to third base during those five games so Martinez could play first?

"It's been talked about," Ausmus said. "I actually mentioned it to Miggy."

In the last two years, putting Martinez at first wasn't an option in NL games. He would have had to replace Prince Fielder, and Fielder had his consecutive-game streak and never came out of the lineup.

But with Fielder gone, the chance arises to put Martinez at first. Cabrera, who's once again the full-time first baseman, could make a cameo return to third. For the full American League season, the Tigers hope rookie Nick Castellanos can take over at third.

"At the end of March (at the end of the exhibition season), if you see Miggy play third for a game, you don't have to immediately say that Castellanos is in trouble," Ausmus said. "It might be that we're setting up options for these National League games, trying to keep our big bats in the lineup."

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