Ausmus has to find balance bringing along Iglesias
Brad Ausmus has a shortstop coming back who could help perform a makeover on Detroit’s infield defense. That’s the good news with Jose Iglesias. The bad news is the balance Ausmus has to strike in getting him there.
This is a more complicated comeback than simply declaring Iglesias over his longtime issues and ready to play. This is a rehab of an unusual injury without a ton of history. And Ausmus, while being encouraged, might be the most realistic — and cautious — of anyone about this.
“It’s very encouraging,” Ausmus said Sunday, “but a number of hurdles have to be crossed before I’ll feel really good about Iglesias’ situation, the biggest of which is being sure his legs can withstand the pounding of daily baseball activity.”
He has to watch how far, how quickly he pushes Iglesias coming off stress fractures in both shins. A gifted young shortstop is a prized commodity in baseball, and the Tigers paid dearly to get one when they traded Avisail Garcia to a division rival. They have fill-ins, but nobody whose impact compares to what Iglesias can do for a game when healthy.
“I’m just concerned more about the long haul than I am some specific incident happening,” Ausmus said. “I’m just worried this might sneak back up on us over the course of a few months if we don’t pay attention to it.”
And yet, for managerial purposes, Ausmus has to figure out how far he can push Iglesias, how long of a stretch he can play his young shortstop without wearing him down.
“We’re going to try to build him up a little bit into it,” Ausmus said, “but at some point before we get to April, we need to know if he can take the pound on a daily basis.”
At the same time, he has to give him enough at-bats to get his timing back after a year of no at-bats anywhere.
“He’s already talked to me about getting a few extra at-bats compared to a normal Spring Training,” Ausmus said.
He has already taken a Leyland-esque outlook on that one.
“If he gets off to a good start, then [the low at-bats] doesn’t affect him at all,” Ausmus said. “If he gets off to a slow start, then the reason he’s gotten off to a slow start is because he hasn’t played in a year. I don’t know that you can really predetermine how it’s going to go. I think the best thing to do is try to get him extra at-bats, do as much as you can to kind of negate the off-time. But ultimately, you just don’t know.”
Don’t be surprised if Iglesias bats up in the batting order for some games this spring. It would allow Ausmus to get him extra at-bats while still watching how many innings he plays at shortstop. It would not necessarily put him in line to bat second in the regular season, though a good spring wouldn’t hurt.
The Tigers might have some at-bats open at designated hitter early in the spring, too, until Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez are ready.
None of this suggests Iglesias won’t be ready for the season. Unless he has a serious setback, he’ll almost surely be in the lineup when the Tigers host the Twins on April 6 at Comerica Park. Ausmus’ concerns are the games in June, July and into the stretch run.
He at least seems to have a shortstop who understands that.
“I’ve got to work smart,” Iglesias said Saturday. “I don’t want to cause any issues to myself. But I’m fine. I’m really happy. I’m really excited.”