July 16th, 2014

Dirks recalled from rehab assignment with muscle inflammation in lower back

The Tigers sent Andy Dirks out on a minor-league rehab assignment with a plan to have him spend the full 20 days allowed working his way back into game shape. Essentially, Tigers head athletic trainer Kevin Rand said, this is his Spring Training.

This is also serious back surgery from which Dirks is trying to come back, and the comeback has apparently hit a snag. The Tigers announced Wednesday that they’ve recalled Dirks from his rehab assignment with Class A Lakeland, and will keep him on the disabled list.

The move came from what the Tigers are calling lower back muscular inflammation from increased activity.

“Just some minor irritation,” team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski replied in an email.

Dirks went 5-for-16 with a double and an RBI over six games with Lakeland. He started both ends of a doubleheader on Monday against Port St. Lucie, but was lifted from the second game for a pinch-hitter after two at-bats and two strikeouts. Considering he was the DH in that game, it wasn’t simply an issue of rest. Lakeland was off on Tuesday.

No word on how long he’ll be sidelined, but even if it’s short, it likely throws another wrench into his timetable. The previous plan put him on track, if everything went well, to be potentially ready around the end of the month. This all but ensures his rehab will at least linger into August.

It also means the Tigers most likely won’t get a look at Dirks in the big leagues before the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline. If they want/need a left-handed hitting outfielder for the stretch run and playoffs, they might have to swing a deal to ensure they have one ready.

VerHagen set to start for Tigers on Saturday

While Max Scherzer is scheduled to make his next start in the nightcap of Saturday’s day-night doubleheader against Cleveland, the other starter is no longer TBA. The answer did not go as expected.

Credit Tom Reisenweber, who covers the Erie SeaWolves for the Erie Times-News, with the scoop:


The Tigers confirmed the move on Thursday. VerHagen will start Game 1.

The expectation was that lefty Robbie Ray, who filled in for Anibal Sanchez while he was on the DL in May, would get the call. In fact, he got an extra day’s rest before his last start on Sunday, by all appearances to put him on track for a potential start this coming Saturday. Then he gave up eight runs on 11 hits over 4 1/3 innings to Pawtucket, leaving him with 12 runs allowed on 15 hits over 7 1/3 innings in his last two outings.

VerHagen, meanwhile, has pitched fairly well in the same Mud Hens rotation for the past month, allowing nine earned runs over 33 1/3 innings in his last five starts. He’s a right-hander, and the Indians field a predominantly left-handed lineup that hits 15 points higher off righties with a 70-point difference in OPS. However, the Tigers have shown the last couple years that they want their pitching call-ups to be based on who’s pitching best, not simply seniority or matchups. As Jim Leyland often emphasized, it’s a reward, not a given.

The Tigers can use MLB’s 26th-player rule for doubleheaders (a rule Jim Leyland helped get enacted a few years ago) to call up VerHagen without having to send anyone down.He’s not on the 40-man roster, but there are a few ways they can tackle that, including transferring Joel Hanrahan from the 15-day DL to the 60-day.

Tigers’ toughest opponent might be the calendar

If you like doubleheaders, you are going to like the Tigers’ second-half schedule.

If you don’t like trying to find something to do on days the Tigers aren’t playing, you’re going to love their second-half schedule.

If you want an easy road for the Tigers’ to a fourth consecutive AL Central title, well, you might not like this schedule.

The Tigers entered the All-Star break having played at least three fewer games than any other AL team. Those are postponed games from early in the season that have to be made up — one cold-out against the Indians on April 15, one rainout from Minnesota April 27, and another rainout from Chicago last month.

All of those games are going to be made up with Saturday day-night doubleheaders, three of them in a seven-week stretch starting this weekend. And all the extra rest — in the case of April, way too much — the Tigers received in April is about to come back to haunt them:

  • They open the second half with 11 games in 10 days across three time zones, capped by a four-game series in California against an Angels squad that was rolling into the break.
  • They get an off-day coming back from the coast, then play 20 consecutive days — including a nine-game, three-city trip to New York, Toronto and Pittsburgh.
  • Then comes the most interesting test of all: 24 games over 23 days in five cities, including day-night doubleheaders on back-to-back Saturdays in Minnesota and Chicago. The doubleheaders nullify the off-day.
  • And the team that had six scheduled off-days from April 1 to May 1 (plus two more off-days from rainouts) will have just five off-days from Friday until the end of the regular season.

That means three spot starts for Robbie Ray or somebody else from Triple-A Toledo. (The Tigers can take advantage of MLB’s 26th-man rule to add an extra player for those doubleheader days, so nobody has to go down to make room.)

Well beyond starting pitchers, though, that means a test of the Tigers’ depth, including a bullpen that has some well-used setup men in Joba Chamberlain and Al Alburquerque. They’ve pitched in 41 and 45 games so far this year, respectively.

The Tigers who made the All-Star team already had plans to rest up before the stretch starts. Ian Kinsler was heading back to Detroit, rather than traveling home to Texas and dealing with the heat.

“It’s going to be nice to put your feet up a little bit, relax for a couple days, just hang out, just drink a lot of water, eat some good meals and get ready for the second half,” he said. “So it’s going to be nice to have those two days.”

Max Scherzer said Tuesday night he was going to spend Wednesday in Minnesota and relax before heading back to Detroit, rather than dealing with the travel mess that usually comes with the day after the All-Star Game.

Neither, however, sounded particularly fearful of the stretch ahead.

“If we’re winning, it’s going to be easy,” Kinsler said. “Everything’s going to flow nicely. Everything’s going to be smooth.

“You saw us make a couple runs in the first half. When we’re winning games and we’re turning the rotation over with Justin and Max at the top of it and the way Porcello’s been throwing, if we can continue to turn that rotation over, it’s going to be easy for us. It shouldn’t be that tough without those days.”

For starting pitchers, it’s a little easier, because it keeps them in a routine of starting every five days.

“Maybe [it gets tiring],” Scherzer said. “But at the same time, at this point in the year, you just get so numb to the grind. You just expect waking up, coming to the park and playing baseball. Having extra days and less off-days, it really doesn’t faze us anymore.”