Dirks expected to miss three months after back surgery
MAR 04, 2014 5:19p ET
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Left field is about to get interesting for the Detroit Tigers.
Andy Dirks, a left-handed hitter who figured to get most of the at-bats in a platoon with right-handed Rajai Davis, is scheduled to have back surgery on Monday in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski said Tuesday the microdiscectomy, which will be performed on the lumbar region in his lower back by Dr. Thomas Tolli, will require three weeks of "complete rest" followed by three weeks of therapy. He said Dirks would then require about six weeks of baseball activity to return to the Tigers.
Dombrowski said, "In 12 weeks, he'll be ready to play."
That means Dirks, who hit .256 with nine homers and 37 RBIs in 2013, won't be available until about mid-June. That also brought plenty of questions for Tigers manager Brad Ausmus and Dombrowski about how they will shape up in left field.
"If Rajai plays well," Ausmus said, "he might be the only guy we need.
"But I certainly feel for Andy. I've been in the same shoes with this surgery ... It can bring your spirits down."
Ausmus said he began experiencing lower back problems while playing for the Tigers in 2000, but didn't have the surgery until 2010 with the Los Angeles Dodgers in his 18th and final season. He had the surgery during the first week of that season and was back around the All-Star Break.
"I've had no problems with it ever since," said Ausmus, who lifted his jersey and bent over to show the surgical scar to reporters. His repairs were made to the same area in which Dirks' will be performed -- between the fourth and fifth lumbar vertebrae.
"A piece of disc tore away from the whole disc," Ausmus said of his back injury.
Dombrowski said there was "not a specific incident" connected to Dirks' injury, adding that Dirks has experienced "twinges" since high school.
While Dombrowski said it was not his "intent" to sign Davis as an everyday player, Ausmus appears ready to provide him that opportunity. Davis batted .319 against left-handers and .228 versus right-handers last season for the Toronto Blue Jays, but the discrepancy has not been as wide over his career (.294 lefties and .255 righties).
Davis had only 331 plate appearances last year and still stole 45 bases -- 10 more than the entire Detroit roster. He could be a threat to steal a staggering number of bases should he produce and play regularly. Davis is a quality defensive outfielder with limited power. He had 16 doubles, six homers and 24 RBIs in 2013.
Ausmus also mentioned infielder-outfielder Don Kelly as a possibility for more playing time. He's a left-handed hitter like Dirks, and could fill a platoon slot rather nicely. Kelly would have to improve on last year's numbers, though. He batted only .222 with six homers and 23 RBIs, but is a strong defender.
"Donnie's swinging the bat well and will certainly be a consideration," said Ausmus.
Kelly had a single and a double in Tuesday's 5-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates, and is batting .444.
Ausmus noted that utility infielder Steve Lombardozzi, who came in the Doug Fister trade with the Washington Nationals, also can play left field. That will provide Ausmus definite roster flexibility, and allow him to carry another middle infielder such as Hernan Perez, Danny Worth or Eugenio Suarez. Though, Ausmus said that roster addition would not necessarily be the case.
Carrying another quality defensive shortstop such as Worth or Suarez could be important if starter Jose Iglesias' current shin problems were to resurface during the season. The Tigers expect him to be ready to play again soon, though.