DETROIT — When will Jose Iglesias return as the starting shortstop for the Detroit Tigers?
That’s an even more important question since free agent shortstop Stephen Drew, long considered a possibility for Detroit, signed this week with the Boston Red Sox for $10 million.
Iglesias has Gold Glove possibilities and made several exceptional plays in last year’s playoffs, while hitting .303 in a season that began with the Boston Red Sox.
He’s a difference-maker for a Tigers team that is playing a strong defender who is batting .173 in Andrew Romine and solid defender Danny Worth, who has a little more pop but is batting only .212. They are making the plays at shortstop, but not like Iglesias and not with his offensive threat.
Iglesias remains in Miami, rehabilitating bilateral tibial stress fractures in both shins. He has yet to begin baseball activities, but Tigers head athletic trainer Kevin Rand said some determinations will be made within the next few weeks.
Anything is possible in regard to his return.
"Jose will be re-evaluated in early June by Dr. Thomas Clanton in Vail, Colo.," Rand said before Friday’s game. "We’ll know a lot more after that."
Rand stressed that in no way is Iglesias’ season considered over.
"Anything is possible in regard to his return," Rand said. "Right now, he’s rehabbing in Miami. He’s able to bike and swim, and is doing upper-body strengthening."
Iglesias missed a few games last September when problems with the shins flared up, and the discomfort returned in spring training before seriously compromising his ability to decelerate while running. The decision was made to shut him down from baseball activity. The hopes then were that he might return after the All-Star break. Rand still would not rule that out.
Clanton, who works out of the Steadman Clinic, is a foot and ankle specialist. He’s a medical consultant for the Houston Rockets and has been the team orthopaedist for the Houston Texans. He has treated athletes such as retired Rockets center Yao Ming, former NFL running back and Ohio State Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George, and Liu Xiang, the 2004 Olympic 110-meter hurdles gold medalist.
RELIEVER COREY KNEBEL READY FOR ACTION
Corey Knebel walked into the Tigers clubhouse hours after having his contract purchased from Toledo, and was clearly impressed with his new surroundings. He couldn’t wipe the smile off his face and said, "Look at this clubhouse!"
Tigers veteran reliever Joba Chamberlain walked over to welcome Knebel before he spoke with reporters.
"Why are you sweating?" Chamberlain asked after hugging Knebel. "You haven’t even started pitching."
Knebel smiled and said, "I’m excited a lot. It’s not like I’m trying to do too much, but this is an honor."
Detroit drafted Knebel (kuh-NAY-bull) No. 39 overall last June, but he was so impressive at Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo that he was added to the Detroit bullpen just 11 months after getting selected. He was 3-0 with a 1.20 ERA and 23 strikeouts in 15 innings for Erie, and threw four scoreless innings with four strikeouts for Toledo.
"He has a really good curve and his makeup is supposed to be good," said Tigers manager Brad Ausmus. "We’ll be learning about him on the go."
Knebel said, "I work to locate my fastball, throw my curveball for strikes and work on my changeup."
What’s the key to that curve that makes him special?
"I try to throw it as hard I can and that kind of does it," said Knebel, 22.
He credits Skip Johnson, his pitching coach at the University of Texas, with the credo he abides by on the mound.
Asked if he would fear anyone when he gets into his first game, Knebel said, "No, I won’t. I will not."
How does Ausmus intend to use the prospect with closer stuff?
"Obviously, you don’t want to throw him into a burning hot fire if you can avoid that," Ausmus said. "If you can control that, there’s less pressure."
Knebel grew up near Austin, Texas, and said he rooted for Ausmus when he played for the Houston Astros. His favorite Astros were second baseman Craig Biggio and pitcher Roy Oswalt.
PUTKONEN UPDATE: Ausmus said reliever Luke Putkonen (elbow), examined Wednesday by orthopaedist James Andrews, will not need Tommy John surgery. "He needs treatment and rehab and no surgery," Ausmus said.