March 6th, 2014

Thinking injuries on a rainout day

Spring Training 012

I’ve heard a lot of people mention what I was thinking at the Winter Meetings: Jim Leyland looks younger since he retired as manager. That makes sense, but if so, then the next question is whether the reverse is true.

If Brad Ausmus starts picking up gray hairs soon, you can thank the Tigers’ injury situations for it. It’s not about Justin Verlander, who by all appearances is on track to be ready for the start of the season. It’s about the other guys.

Ausmus has a gifted young shortstop with a condition that has bothered him off and on since before he became a Tiger last July. And while Thursday was a good day for Jose Iglesias towards getting healthy, he does not yet have a timetable for a return, nor any guarantee that his shin splints will no longer nag at him from time to time.

If Iglesias has day-to-day injuries during the season, his backup is Steve Lombardozzi, who was already spending this spring getting comfortable at the position. With Iglesias’ situation uncertain, the urgency to get Lombardozzi ready to step in increases.

Meanwhile, Ausmus now has a left-field platoon that now could feature anything from Rajai Davis as a full-time left fielder to a partial platoon to a multi-player pile-up. The good news is that Davis has enough speed to add some production against right-handed hitters if he can hit the ball on the ground (he seems to alternate seasons with decent and low BABIPs against righties, and last year was a low season at just .273). The bad news is that there’s no clear-cut answer for the left-handed hitting answer to that mix, and Ausmus has at least three possible options to evaluate for the next three weeks with Don Kelly, Trevor Crowe and Ezequiel Carrera. All of them have shown serious offensive flaws over their careers, but all have something to bring over a short stretch if they can heat up.

If there’s uncertainty at both spots three weeks now, Ausmus could have some serious decisions to make with his bench: Keep Don Kelly and another left-handed hitting outfielder, likely Crowe or Carrera? If Kelly becomes a platoon outfielder in left, does that mean Crowe or Carrera make the team as a reserve? Could Lombardozzi serve as a backup outfielder, and if so, would that lead Ausmus to think about carrying Hernan Perez or Danny Worth for protection at shortstop and third? So far, Ausmus hasn’t given any indication that carrying an extra infielder is an option.

Last but not least, if nobody impresses in left field, do the Tigers move to add an outfielder, either off the waiver wire or through the trade market? Credit MLB Network Radio’s Jim Duquette and Mike Ferrin for asking that question today to Dave Dombrowski, who gave his usual trade deadline answer that they always keep tabs on the market. That usually means if they’re not scouting their options, they’re about to.

Andy Dirks, whose back injury led to this uncertainty in left, said today doctors are confident that he should be back in 12 weeks, despite the forboding sense that back surgery brings. Can the Tigers feel confident that they can find help around midseason if recovery takes longer? Can they trust that Dirks, who came in to camp with something to prove, can be effective upon his return?

A fair number of these are questions for Dombrowski. But even those trickle down to Ausmus, who might have to manage this roster through some issues very early in his managerial tenure.

Tigers-Phillies rained out

Just when Justin Verlander was ready to face opposing hitters again, he met up with one foe he was never going to beat. Heavy rains at Joker Marchant Stadium washed out Thursday’s Grapefruit League game between the Tigers and Phillies.

The game will not be made up. Tickets can be exchanged for a future Tigers Spring Training home game, a Lakeland Flying Tigers home game in the Florida State League, or a refund at the stadium box office.

The game had been in suspense for a while as a weather front crept towards Florida’s Gulf Coast overnight and into Thursday morning. The timing of the system passing through was the only question. Once the rain began shortly after 9 a.m., it kept going all morning and into the afternoon, leaving the decision to cancel inevitable. Radar showed a storm system wider than the state of Florida.

Thus, Verlander spent his Thursday throwing yet another side session, this one indoors within the Tigers batting cages. He couldn’t duplicate the game conditions, but the pitches should at least be enough to continue his process of stretching out his arm endurance to be ready for the season.

Verlander’s next turn in the Tigers rotation is scheduled for next Tuesday against the Blue Jays, also at Joker Marchant Stadium. Barring no more postponements, he should get four starts against opposing hitters before the season begins.

The rest of the Tigers’ scheduled pitchers — including Drew VerHagen, Ian Krol and Al Alburquerque — were slated to throw in the cage as well to keep them on schedule. Detroit hits the road for three of its next four games, including Friday night’s game against the Yankees in Tampa and a two-day trip to Jupiter for games against the Marlins on Sunday and Cardinals on Monday.

Iglesias reports improvement in shin splints

A week after Jose Iglesias’ shin splints forced him out of action, the Tigers don’t have a timetable for when he could return. That’s the bad news for the Tigers shortstop. The good news for Iglesias is that team medical officials might be close to finding a remedy for the shin splints that have bothered him off and on for at least the past couple years.

The team had a specialist observe Iglesias running and watch how the orthotics might impact him.

“Last year Boston made them for me, but this time we added a pad at the bottom, and it really helped me,” Iglesias said.

The difference, Iglesias said, was immediate. He added that another adjustment might be made once they can have another set of orthotics built.

That doesn’t mean Iglesias is going to return to action right away. He’s scheduled to hit in the cage today and continue receiving treatment. He’s presumably going to have to take infield work and run the bases as well before he’s cleared to return to action. Long term, though, there’s at least some hope that this might not be an ongoing issue for him anymore.