March 19, 2014 at 1:00 am

Lynn Henning

Once a cutdown casualty, infielder has Worth to banged-up Tigers

Danny Worth can play second and third base, and could be the Tigers' short-term solution at shortstop after Jose Iglesias' injury. (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)

Lakeland, Fla. — One of the crueler moments from a man’s spring training archives happened last March, late on a Thursday afternoon inside the visiting team’s clubhouse at Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee.

Danny Worth had just been told he was not making the Tigers’ 25-man roster. It was a business decision, although if you prefer using the word “politics,” it works for me. Worth should have made the team. He was bested by Ramon Santiago and a $2.1 million contract the Tigers preferred not to waste.

After getting the news from Jim Leyland, who was handling his final spring camp as Tigers manager, Worth strode to his puny locker inside a typically tight Grapefruit League dressing room. He was distraught, as his flushed face and angry duffel-bag stuffing confirmed. At those particular moments, a reporter does not enjoy having to ask the necessary question:

How do you deal with disappointment and injustice on this scale?

Worth had grounds, emotionally, to explode. He instead did what mature people do: He kept his self-control and said he didn’t want to talk about it.

In fact, his manager had already spoken for Worth and for another roster casualty that day, Quintin Berry, when Leyland said:

“I’m not going to elaborate, but I can tell you that, in reality, we had 27 guys this year that we tried to fit on a 25-man squad and just couldn’t do it.”

Speaking specifically of Worth, Leyland said “he deserves to be on the team” and that “he looked like a big-leaguer and he is a big-leaguer, but that’s not much consolation for him today.”

This moment in personal anguish was mentioned Tuesday as Worth stood inside another clubhouse, Joker Marchant Stadium’s home team quarters, as the Tigers got ready for a game against the Blue Jays. Worth suddenly is relevant to a roster that looked as if it would have no space for him. Jose Iglesias is likely gone for an extended stretch because of shin problems and the Tigers need an everyday shortstop.

Hot hitter

It could be Worth, 28, who can play third base and second base, as well as shortstop, and whose two hits Tuesday pushed his Grapefruit League batting average to .333.

Included among his hits in 33 at-bats are three doubles and a triple.

Worth recalled Tuesday that March afternoon in Kissimmee a year ago. Emotions converged: anger, a crushing sense of rejection, all fueled by one of life’s worst realities: injustice.

“I just wanted to crawl into a hole,” he said. “Fans don’t see that side of it. But I would rather play bad and know there were things I had to work on. Knowing I had done enough to make the team — that’s harder than not playing well.

“It’s a heartbreaker.”

Life got no better when he reported for duty at Triple A Toledo. In an April game at Fifth Third Field, Worth tried to beat a throw and slammed his heel into the first-base bag. He missed two months.

He made it back but hit .228 in 83 games. As baseball seasons go, 2013 has already been placed in Worth’s trash compactor.

The Tigers, though, wanted him back, even after he lost his roster spot and no team claimed him on waivers. He has quick hands, an excellent arm — and a bat that has never been sterling. But neither has it been bad. His big-league batting average (115 games) is .242. His career minor-league average is .248.

“He’s got the ability, he understands the game,” said Wally Joyner, the Tigers hitting coach, who has been working with Worth “on a game plan that makes him more consistent.”

'Plenty of power'

“He’s got plenty of power,” Joyner said. “I’ve seen (Grapefruit League) hard outs and tough at-bats. It’s about confidence, preparation and a consistent approach.”

It’s also about talent. You can either hit or you can’t. Worth has never shown he would sting enough pitches to win regular work. Not yet.

The Tigers, who concede they have never quite given a healthy infielder the shot he probably deserves, might have been pushed now into sticking with their 2007 second-round draft pick.

Iglesias’ bad shins have opened minds — and, perhaps, a roster spot for a guy who had done everything right a year ago except win a job he deserved.

“I have to live with myself,” Worth said, talking about acceptance — the old Serenity Prayer about dealing with what you can and can’t change and knowing the difference. “I’m lucky to be putting on a baseball uniform every day.

“A lot of people don’t get to do that.”

lynn.henning@detroitnews.com
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