Clearwater, Fla. – Just as the Tigers and Jose Iglesias were cheering his chances to turn shortstop into a showplace, the Tigers have lost Iglesias to an old ailment – shin splints.
“He won’t play in the neighborhood of a week,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said Friday amid concerns Iglesias, who missed two games last September with the same malady, could be dealing with a more chronic condition.
“We’re not happy it’s recurred a year later.”
Iglesias will be replaced by Hernan Perez, who primarily plays second base, but whose versatility makes him the Tigers’ most big-league-ready answer at short. Perez played in 34 games last season for the Tigers.
“He’s looked good,” Ausmus said of Perez, a right-handed hitter who went 0-for-4 in Friday’s 10-6, split-squad loss to the Phillies at Bright House Field. “He’s looked really good. I’ve been impressed with him.”
Iglesias was to have been the Tigers’ crown-jewel defender in a 2014 infield that has been transformed from last year’s team. But the same shin stress that became an issue last year, following an offseason running in sand along Miami’s shores, has now followed Iglesias into a second consecutive season.
Ausmus said Tigers trainers had wondered if “some genetic factor” might be at the heart of Iglesias’ issue, but at this time there was no reason to believe Iglesias is dealing with any long-term problem.
Shin splints are a common irritant for athletes, particularly runners, whose muscles, tendons and tissue in the area of the tibia (shin bone) can become inflamed by stress or over-use.
The remedy most prescribed is rest. How much time away from the field might be required before Iglesias is ready to return to Ausmus’ lineup was the team’s primary question Friday. Another darker concern was whether Iglesias could be looking at repeat problems beyond this latest episode.
Ausmus noticed during Thursday’s game against the Braves at Marchant Stadium that the normally fleet Iglesias was running less than smoothly to first base.
Iglesias acknowledged that he was in pain. In concert with Tigers trainers, Ausmus said the decision was, “Let’s try and nip this.”
And so a vital up-the-middle player the Tigers acquired last July in a deadline trade with the Red Sox and White Sox will now be shelved.
Ausmus said he spoke Thursday evening with Iglesias and “you could tell he was upset. He wanted to play.”
Perez will, for now, be the Tigers’ choice at short. Although he hit only .197 during his 2013 audition with the Tigers, the Tigers believe Perez will progress, particularly after a stint in the Venezuelan Winter League, where he batted .265 for two VWL teams, including .283 in 22 games for Caribes de Anzoategui.
“He’s an interesting player,” said Gene Lamont, the Tigers bench coach who managed the split-squad group that traveled Friday to Clearwater. “He’s always looked good in spring camps. He carries himself well.”
Perez, who later this month turns 23, had a typical rookie malady last season: the slider away.
“For a while he was waving,” Lamont said of a right-handed batter, who stands 6-foot-1 and weighs 185 pounds. “He’s recognizing the breaking ball.”
Perez said laying off pitches away topped his winter to-do list.
“I worked on my strike zone,” said Perez, a Venezuela native who signed with the Tigers in 2007 and who originally played shortstop until he was shifted as a means for accommodating Dixon Machado, a formerly prized shortstop prospect.
Of the sudden shift to regular work, at a station he wasn’t projected to play regularly, he said: “It doesn’t bother me. I’ve been working at that position. I think it’s a great opportunity for me. I just want to work hard and make the team.”
In their Friday loss to the Phillies, the Tigers had only six hits, two of them from Nick Castellanos, the rookie third baseman whose two doubles were worth four RBIs.
Castellanos hit a three-run bases loaded shot off the top of the right-center field fence in the first against Phillies starter Kyle Kendrick. He added another RBI in the sixth on a slicing drive into the right-field corner.
“That’s why you think he can drive in some runs,” Lamont said of Castellanos, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound, right-handed batter. “He’s gonna use the whole field.”
The Phillies scored five unearned runs in the third when Perez was said to have missed second base after he took a relay from second baseman DeVon Travis on what the Tigers had hoped would be a double-play ground ball.
The Tigers weren’t so sure Perez had made a misstep. The list of doubters included Perez.
“I was on the base,” Perez said. “Maybe a little beyond, but I was on the base.”