After getting burned several times by injured players who either tried to return too early, or hung around too long, unavailable, Tigers manager Jim Leyland wasn't taking the same chance with back-up catcher Gerald Laird.
"I’m done with taking those types of risks," the skipper admitted, after getting burned by allowing starting catcher Alex Avila — and maybe even starting pitcher Doug Fister — return to the lineup too early, only to have their injury get aggravated, and lose them for longer.
So he was careful with Laird, who'd pulled his hamstring a week go, running out an infield hit against the Yankees. Leyland wasn't going to put him back in the lineup until he'd demonstrated he was at — or at least near — full health.
That meant going out for early batting practice Friday at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, and doing some running, as well as swinging the bat.
"We’re going to hit early in Cincinnati tomorrow, and I’m going to have him come out when we hit early, and have him do some running in the outfield and everything. And if he convinces me he’s OK to play, I’m going to play him," Leyland said Thursday.
"But this has been a two-time thing with Gerald and the leg, so I’m being very cautious about it.
"We got burnt with Alex, and we got burnt with (Andy) Dirks a couple times, so I’m being very cautious about it. He’s not very happy about it, but I don’t really care. Because I’ve gotta do what I can to get these guys (right). I want to get back to Alex and Laird."
Evidently, that went well, because Laird is indeed in the lineup for Friday's game against the Reds. Dirks, who is on six-game trip, took early batting practice, as well, according to a tweet from MLB.com's Jason Beck
. Dirks is out with a lingering Achilles strain, and is not eligible to come off the disabled list until June 15.
Hopefully, this will begin a trend of a number of hobbling Tigers returning to the lineup.
At bare minimum, it will probably make the day for Laird, who was indeed none too happy to be told 'No' all week, despite making his case for being 'close' all week to both his manager, and the media.
Leyland, for one, wasn't buying it.
"Laird is mad at me right now because he’s not playing. I want to go on record as saying that I’m proud of the fact that he wants to play. That’s what I told the guys (Wednesday) night. I know they’re trying their ass off. Guys are trying to play through injuries, they’re playing hurt. No one appreciates that more than me, but common sense has to come into it. Any man that saw the game (Wednesday) night and saw Gerald Laird run knows that you’re 100 percent and ready to play tonight. Could he get through it if he has to in a total emergency? Yeah. But I’m not going to do that. I’m going to try and get him right. I want to get all the ducks in order. You’re never 100 percent when you play the game. That’s just what I’m going to do," Leyland said.
"I think I would look like a fool to put him out there tonight to let him start this game. And, I think anyone that saw the game last night would agree with me. He wants to play and he’s upset that he’s not playing. But, I have a full set of fresh legs tonight that I’m not really worried about. If I play Gerald tonight, I’m holding my breath.
"I don’t want to look foolish and I want to get Gerald Laird 100 percent healthy. He’s perfect for what we need. We know that that complement of catchers is perfect for us, but right now neither one of them are healthy."
Players trying to barter their way into the lineup is nothing new in sports, and it's completely unsurprising for a team that's struggling to find ways to snap out of a malaise that's lasted more than 40 games.
"Guys always want to play. They always want to play. All we can do is, as far as range of motion, strength, try to read them, see what they do as far as running, those types of things, on the field. They’ll all want to play ... You want those guys. You want those guys who want to be out there all the time," said the Tigers' head trainer, Kevin Rand, who's been worked to the bone of late.
"You know what? Every team has injuries, we all have them, and it’s just a question of getting through it. If you look, very rarely does a club get through a year where they don’t have two or three guys missing some time."
OTHER INJURY UPDATES:
• Scheduled only to get three at-bats Thursday's Mud Hens game to start his rehab stint at Triple-A Toledo, center fielder Austin Jackson (abdominal strain) stayed longer than anticipated, playing a complete game with four at-bats.
"I felt good," Jackson told the Toledo Blade's John Wagner afterward
. "I didn't feel any pain, and it was good to get back out there and get back in the swing of things. "It was tough to get my timing back. I wanted to see some pitches, and I didn't have any pain, so that was a good thing."
He could be back as soon as Saturday.
• Ryan Raburn, who was in Toledo to try to kick-start his slumping bat, has been battling a hamstring issue of his own, and has not played since Tuesday.
DETROIT TIGERS (26-31):
Quintin Berry, CF (L)
Brennan Boesch, RF (L)
Miguel Cabrera, 3B (R)
Prince Fielder, 1B (L)
Delmon Young, LF (R)
Jhonny Peralta, SS (R)
Gerald Laird, C (R)
Ramon Santiago, 2B (S)
Rick Porcello, P (R)