Who steps up if Iglesias isn’t ready for opening day?
TAMPA, Fla. — Shortstop has been a revolving door for the Detroit Tigers ever since Jose Iglesias went on the shelf two weeks ago with a stress reaction in both shins.
Hernan Perez started in Wednesday’s 7-7 tie with the New York Yankees, and Eugenio Suarez is scheduled to start Thursday against the Florida Marlins. Danny Worth started Monday. And so it goes.
Iglesias said Tuesday that he does not know when he will be ready to return to game action. Tigers manager Brad Ausmus also is left to wonder.
Ausmus won’t issue an absolute date for which Iglesias must return to be ready for the March 31 opener. But when asked about that, Ausmus glanced across his office at a chart listing total at-bats for hitters and said, "We’re getting close, yeah."
Iglesias has four at-bats, and Ausmus said he’d like Iglesias to get 50 in exhibition games. That can still be easily accomplished with 17 games to play and the option of sliding Iglesias into minor league games. But the clock is ticking, and the drop-dead date very likely is sometime next week. And as for defense, Ausmus said Iglesias and second baseman Ian Kinsler are "going to be learning each other into the season" at this point.
Iglesias has tired of questions about his health and return while he takes batting and fielding practice and jogs. He wants to play, but can’t. And it’s become frustrating.
"There’s a hot spot in the middle of the shins," Ausmus said. "The pounding of running causes stress in the middle of the shin, and the stress is causing pain."
Ausmus said the inflammation "comes and goes" and noted that the orthotics added to Iglesias’ cleats are helping.
"We’re waiting for the pain to subside enough to get him in the lineup," Ausmus said.
Unless Iglesias stops making progress, which he does most days, the Tigers are most concerned with possible short-term solutions.
They have four of them. There are Venezuelans Eugenio Suarez and Hernan Perez, both 22, utility man Steve Lombardozzi and veteran Danny Worth.
I spoke with two National League scouts, both of whom wished to remain anonymous, and they didn’t hesitate in offering that Worth was the solution. Both also went as far as to say they believed Worth will make the Tigers regardless of Iglesias’ health. They reasoned that Don Kelly will platoon in left field with Rajai Davis, leaving Lombardozzi as the only extra infielder most nights. And Lombardozzi could be at best a spot starter at shortstop unless he can make plays in the hole.
Perez made one dazzling play against the Yankees. He went up the middle to grab the grounder, spun the full 360 degrees and fired to take a hit away from Russ Canzler. Perez has played 26 of his 30 games with the Tigers at second base with two apiece at shortstop and third base.
"I think he can play either (middle infield) spot," Ausmus said. "He’s got enough arm to play either spot."
Suarez has yet to play above Double-A, but shows promise and is batting .313 this spring — the highest of any Detroit shortstop. Worth has begun to hit but is at .227, while Perez is hitting .160 and Lombardozzi’s at .263.
On Suarez, Ausmus said, "He’s young but carries himself well. He’s played well … He’s opened some eyes. And if Iglesias isn’t back, we have to have some type of answer at shortstop."
Worth is smooth at shortstop, where he hasn’t made an error there in 106 chances in the majors.
"You really can play him anywhere on the infield and that has value," Ausmus said. "He is a solid defender who is going to make the play. You can put him anywhere and not worry about the defense."
Ausmus noted that Worth can play first base, but has not done so yet. He’s played plenty at second and third.
"He was scuffling some (at bat)," Ausmus said, "but he’s hitting better and got a couple of doubles in Jupiter (against the St. Louis Cardinals)."
"It was very quick," Ausmus said, "and our video guy said the call was right before it was reviewed."
Ausmus said he considered calling for a review on a tag play until the player told him the call was correct.
"Everything is working good," said Sanchez.
Detroit catcher Alex Avila said, "He’s about as consistent with his stuff as it gets."
Sanchez’s lone mistake was a fastball down the middle that Francisco Cervelli crushed for a homer.