Schlereth slowly working back to return

CLEARWATER , Fla. — The wincing, waiting, wondering, and deep tissue massages are just about over for Daniel Schlereth.

He had never spent so much as two months on the disabled list. But it’s been nearly four months since the Tigers’ left-handed reliever went on the shelf with what has been termed “left shoulder tendinitis” by the club.

“It feels like I have not played forever,” Schlereth said Friday, while standing on the top step of the dugout at Bright House Field. “I want to get back to Detroit. I’ve missed everybody and being around the clubhouse. I miss competing.”

If all goes well, Schlereth said he should be ready to return to Detroit from a rehabilitation assignment with the Lakeland Flying Tigers after pitching back-to-back, one-inning stints on Aug. 20-21.

Schlereth was asked if the injury was just tendinitis.

“No,” he said. “Tendinitis does not last four months. They probably don’t want me saying that. But when I could not reach back and throw 90 mph, I knew something else was wrong. I was in a lot of pain, and it’s hard to pitch with a throbbing shoulder.

“I don’t know what caused it. Maybe I lifted too much in the offseason. It started in spring training, and I didn’t tell our trainers I was hurt. I was stupid. I got that from my dad. We just push through things. That’s dumb on both our parts. But I was hurting the team and pitching terrible.”

Playing hurt is much more a part of his father’s game than it is in baseball. Mark Schlereth, now an ESPN analyst, was a two-time Pro Bowl offensive guard and won three Super Bowl rings with the Broncos and Redskins.

After running up a 10.29 ERA in six games, Schlereth came clean and said he was hurt. The Tigers placed him on the disabled list April 21, and he visited a specialist at the Steadman Clinic in Colorado.

“All pitchers have some sort of tear in their labrum,” Schlereth said. “It was a rotator cuff or labrum problem and the doctor in Colorado talked to me about surgery. But he said the chances of coming back from that were not good.

“So, we decided to go with rest and rehab. I stayed in Colorado and got treated five days a week with heat and deep tissue massages. He had to break it up and get me functional. It worked, and in June I started throwing.”

Schlereth, 26, said he is throwing 92-93 mph fastballs – which is a couple miles per hour off his best. But it’s still plenty enough to compete in the big leagues if his curve or slider is working, and if he commands his pitches.

“Now, I just have to watch how much I throw,” Schlereth said. “And once I get into games, I have to attack the strike zone.

“Phil Coke can play long toss every day and throw a ton in the bullpen. He’s wired differently. I’ll have more success if I don’t throw as much.”

He also mentioned working on a changeup, adding that he’s never been able to make the pitch work for him. The goal is keeping the right-handed hitters, who bat .269 against him, a little more off balance. Lefties hit just .213 against him.

Schlereth, a first-round pick out of the University of Arizona by the Diamondbacks in 2008, had hoped this would be the season he stuck in the majors without a trip to the minors. Instead, it’s been the “strangest season” for him.

He once was looked at as a future closer, but all he wants to do is pitch in games that matter.

“My only goal is to get back to Detroit ,” Schlereth said. “All I want to do is win; I don’t give a crap about the rest of it. Getting knocked out of the playoffs last year still stings.”

He looked down at the dugout steps and shook his head.

“I want to win a championship,” he added, “and I hope that’s in Detroit. We have the best group of guys in that clubhouse that you could ask for. And we have an owner (Mike Ilitch) who wants to win as bad as anyone.

“When we signed Prince Fielder this year, my brother-in-law told me about it in a text. I thought it was a joke.”

Schlereth was looking forward to this season after a strong finish for the 2011 Central Division champions.

He had a 1.93 ERA for the Tigers after returning from a month with Triple-A Toledo late last July.

“The ball was just flying out of my hand perfectly when I came back,” Schlereth said. “But it’s always been that way for me. I’m a second-half pitcher.”

His career earned run average before the All-Star break is 6.30, while it is 2.89 after it.

Another statistic Schlereth can’t explain is his career-long problem of pitching at home – which reached new heights last year. He posted a 5.11 ERA in 2011 at Comerica Park , while dropping that a staggering amount to 1.85 on the road.

He is a road All-Star. But at Comerica, which oddly enough is a park with dimensions favoring pitchers, he doesn’t cut it.

“I guess I just pitch better when I’m the enemy,” Schlereth said. “When I’m on the road, I feel they’re all out to get me and respond better. Maybe I’m too comfortable at home.”

He laughed and added, “Maybe I should stay at a Holiday Inn when we’re in Detroit . But my wife would think that’s pretty strange.”

Last year, in 49 appearances overall, he was 2-2 with a 3.49 ERA. He struck out 44 in 49 innings, but the 31 walks often were his downfall.

Schlereth threw a scoreless inning Saturday night, and is scheduled to pitch again Tuesday. He’s on a pitch count with Lakeland, and has 3 1/3 innings of work in four games with a 2.70 ERA, three walks and three strikeouts.

The Tigers are in the hunt once again, and he longs for the opportunity to return to them.
“I like to compete,” Schlereth said. “That’s what it’s all about.”