Tigers utility man hopes to prove his Worth

LAKELAND, Fla. — Danny Worth has to feel like he’s a yo-yo — going up and down between Detroit and Toledo with such regularity.

Worth was placed on the Tigers roster six different times last year, and optioned to the Mud Hens after all but the final September callup. The 27-year-old utility infielder has been recalled by Detroit 12 times since his big league debut in 2010.

That’s an amazing number of callups.

“I had lost count, to be honest with you,” said Worth. “That’s really crazy. I wonder if that’s the most callups ever in the big leagues. Could you find out?”

I checked by sending an email to Ken Hirdt of the Elias Sports Bureau. His service tracks the wildest statistics, but Hirdt informed me that roster movements are one thing they don’t track.

Worth, for all his trips up and down Interstate 75, has totaled 1.14 years of major league service and a .244 batting average with 10 doubles, two homers and 14 RBI in 217 at-bats.

“I know I want to be in Detroit, and just play my hardest,” said Worth, who is batting .389 and having a quietly productive spring training. “If they want me, they’ll take me north. If not, they won’t.

“It’s not easy, though. Still, if I don’t make it, I know that if I play well down there I will get called up. A lot of guys lose it in that situation; it affects them.”

Worth said he will be out of options after 2013, and so the Tigers must decide this year just how he fits. Optioning him next year likely will mean losing him to another team.

Worth and his wife, Breanne, spend the winters in Westlake Village, Calif. Last year, when Worth made the Opening Day roster for the first time, they got an apartment in the Detroit area. In 2011, he got an apartment in the Toledo area.

“We’ll find a place this year when they tell me where I’m going,” Worth said. 

He’s in a familiar spot again this spring — trying to secure one of the two roster spots available to position players on the 25-man roster. Also competing for those spots are Jeff Kobernus, a Rule 5 draft second baseman who is playing some in left field, and outfielders Quintin Berry, Brennan Boesch, Don Kelly, Avisail Garcia and Nick Castellanos. Kelly can play any position on the field.

Versatility comes into play in getting the final roster spots.

Tigers manager Jim Leyland said he is sure that Worth can play left field if needed there, and that’s a plus. But Leyland’s not playing Worth in left this spring because he doesn’t want to distract him or “clutter things up” in the outfield. Leyland already has Kobernus playing in left in an effort to see how he might fit.

“Danny is more of an infielder,” Leyland said, “and he certainly has a chance out there. We need to get a good look at Danny Worth all spring.”

Worth’s playing time also has increased with veteran utility infielder Ramon Santiago out with a strained right calf and second baseman Omar Infante playing for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic. Worth has four doubles and four RBI in 18 at-bats, and his five walks make for an excellent .522 on-base percentage through Thursday.

Kelly and Worth both made the postseason roster in 2012 because their defensive prowess, ability to run well and versatility were valued more than Boesch’s inconsistent power bat off the bench.

And they ended up being central to Detroit pulling out Game 2 of the ALDS against the Oakland A’s. Both were called upon to pinch-run in the eighth inning, when Kelly scored the tying run on a wild pitch. And, after Worth made a key play on a grounder in the hole in the top of the ninth to get a fielder’s choice out, Kelly connected for the game-winning sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth.

Worth also got into two World Series games. Though, he struck out in his only at-bat.

“It was a blast,” Worth said. “It was a dream come true — very special.”

Detroit’s decision to keep him for the season’s most important games made his up-and-down trials worthwhile.

“Being on that roster meant a lot to me — especially after the last two years,” said Worth, a second-round pick out of Pepperdine in 2007. “It sucks to go up and down. But, maybe they do actually like me. Now I just have to keep on getting better.

“I’d love to be on this team full-time. That’s my goal.”