Wakiji: Dirks works his way back

TOLEDO, Ohio — What Andy Dirks has been going through is actually worse than spring training.

In the spring, Dirks was coming off his Dominican Hero performance in winter league ball and had no rust to shake off in Lakeland.

As a result, Dirks batted .429 with 11 RBIs in 23 spring games (56 at-bats).

Dirks carried that into the regular season with the Tigers, hitting .328 with four home runs and 16 RBIs in 37 games (134 at-bats).

But Dirks lost all that momentum when he had to go on the disabled list with right achilles tendinitis on May 31.

Dirks finally got to head out on a rehabilitation assignment on July 22 with the Toledo Mud Hens, the Tigers’ Triple-A affiliate.

He got a hit in each of his first four games but then tailed off, going 0-for-16 in his next four.

“I know he got some hits early,” Mud Hens manager Phil Nevin said. “But right when you come back, you may run into some balls and not really know what’s going on and all of a sudden it starts sinking in and the timing is a little off.”

On Tuesday, Dirks got some of that timing back, going 2-for-4 with a home run and two runs scored.

“Today was his best day swinging the bat,” Nevin said. “It’s also our first day out of the shadows. He’s had some tough looks at it. When you’re trying to get your timing down and you can’t see the baseball, it makes it tough. Today was a really good day for him. He hit the ball on the screws three times and big home run there. Those add-on runs are big.”

Dirks said now that he’s nine games into his rehabilitation assignment, he’s feeling much better at the plate.

“It’s just mainly staying on the ball right now,” Dirks said. “When you come back, you get a little antsy, you haven’t played in a while and you want to hit it so hard sometimes that it kind of messes with your mechanics a little bit.”

Dirks’ seventh-inning home run, his second with the Mud Hens, added to the lead, making it 7-2 over the Louisville Bats, and added to Dirks’ confidence.

“It felt good,” Dirks said. “Anytime you can barrel up some balls and have some success, it feels good. But you’ve got to know in your mind, sometimes it’s a little bit of a process. When you do kind of struggle for a minute, you just gotta keep working and stay relaxed. There’s no reason to press, you’ve just got to get at-bats and get your timing and once you start hitting a few balls solid, usually it kind of builds.”

Because Dirks had just 29 at-bats coming into Tuesday’s game, he wasn’t all that concerned.

“It’s always frustrating a little bit when you’re struggling but at the same time, you can’t put that in your head, like, ‘Man, I’m really struggling,'” Dirks said. “I’ve had 30 at-bats maybe, so it’d be a different scenario if you had 250 at-bats and you’re still struggling. Then it would probably be a little worse. You just kind of take it for what it is, I didn’t get hits in the last few games but you’ve got to look forward to the next one.”

One thing that Dirks is enjoying is the fact that he’s actually able to play now without thinking about his achilles.

“I feel good,” Dirks said. “Just trying to have some fun, win some games, getting back to what I like to do instead of worrying about things, worrying about how it’s feeling, just get out there and be able to just play and just think about the ball, that’s it. Think about baseball instead of, if I move this way is it going to hurt?”

Earlier in his rehab, Dirks did experience a little soreness, but was pleased that it did not linger.

“There was one day there where I came in and it was sore but since then it’s felt good,” Dirks said. “I’ve been able to run down balls and feel like I can get to balls that I should without any problems as far as the injury is concerned.”

The Mud Hens are off Wednesday before starting a four-game home series against Rochester. So far, no decision has been made yet on when Dirks might return to the Tigers.

“We haven’t set anything,” Dirks said. “The objective was to come down here and play and that’s what I’m doing right now and that’s what we’re focused on. When everybody feels like it’s time, then it’ll happen.”