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A sometimes-irreverent look at Detroit's Boys of Summer, the Tigers, as they try to return to the top of the American League Central.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Laird injures knee in collision; will miss 'couple of days'

The last thing any manager or executive wants is to have someone injure themselves in the last week of camp. No one wants injuries at any time, but if they come early, there's at least time to deal with them.

So that's why the Tigers' brain trust of manager Jim Leyland and GM Dave Dombrowski had to be swallowing hard when they saw back-up catcher Gerald Laird go down in a heap in the second inning of Friday's Grapefruit League game against the Baltimore Orioles. Laird had been tracking a foul fly off the bat of Jai Miller when third baseman Don Kelly ran into his left knee. By all reports, Laird went down in pain, clutching the knee, and had to be helped off the field by head trainer Kevin Rand and minor league infielder Brandon Douglas.

There was a sigh of relief when it turned out to be less serious that it could have been.

The Tigers announced that it was a left knee sprain, that Laird's status was day-to-day, and that he'd be re-evaluated on Saturday.

Laird told the Detroit News' Tom Gage that he'll miss "only a couple of days. Glad I didn't blow it out."

Why all the angst over a journeyman catcher, a career .241 hitter?

Well, having seen the cost of not having a reliable back-up catcher on the roster — especially when the injury to Victor Martinez’s knee forced starter Alex Avila to be in the lineup for 18 straight games at one point last season — the Tigers brought Laird back on a one-year deal to take up the slack. Initially, it was to keep Martinez from having to do double duty. The signing became doubly important when Martinez tore up his knee in January, shelving him for the season.

Laird certainly won’t make anyone forget V-Mart’s offensive contributions when he’s in the lineup, but he’ll certainly help keep Avila fresh for the playoffs, which may be just as important. Avila was worn to a nub by playoff time, suffering from tendinitis in both knees, and hitting .073 in the postseason as a result.

Laird's absence on a short-term basis is probably not all that problematic. Last year's third-string catcher, Omir Santos, who split time between the big league team and Triple-A Toledo, and was sent to the minor league camp Friday morning, could be called back. He'd have to be added to the 40-man roster to do so, but the Tigers could easily open a slot by placing Al Alburquerque (elbow surgery) on the 60-day disabled list, among a handful of possible moves.

The problem is that Santos would not be a long-term solution, should Laird have to miss significant time. As it stands now, the Tigers have at least two 'emergency' catchers on the roster — Kelly and Brandon Inge — but neither would be considered anything more than a band-aid for a game, or at the extreme outside, two. Inge has had multiple knee surgeries since his own days behind the plate, eliminating him from realistic consideration for the role.

Having said that, you have to wonder where the Tigers might turn, if Laird were to get hurt (or if Friday's injury turned out to be serious)? Santos, who was re-signed as an insurance policy? One of the minor-league catchers, like recent draft picks Bryan Holaday, Curt Casali Rob Brantly or James McCann? Someone outside the organization?

That's a more interesting question.

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