June 13, 2014 at 1:00 am

Andy Dirks likely to go on rehab assignment in next week or so

Detroit — Not real soon, but soon enough, the Tigers could be getting a potential boost to the lineup.

Outfielder Andy Dirks (lower back surgery) took another step in his rehabilitation Friday in Lakeland, Fla., taking his first live swings against pitchers.

“He said he’s feeling better,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. “Overall he’s making progress. It looks like he’s on schedule like he’s supposed to.

“He’s been doing all the baseball activities.”

A definite timetable for Dirks’ return remains a bit hazy, though.

He likely will be sent on a rehab assignment in the next 7-10 days. Once there, Dirks can stay a maximum of 20 days, so a return to the Tigers in late June or early July seems possible.

In 131 games last year, Dirks hit .256 with nine home runs and 37 RBIs.

Futbol fever

Just like many other sports fans these days, the Tigers are getting caught up in the World Cup.

The Spain-Netherlands game was on in the Tigers locker room Friday as well as on the Comerica Park scoreboard as the team took batting practice.

With each goal during the 5-1 Dutch victory, the cheers — and groans — became louder.

The reason? Each member of the team “drafted” teams in the tournament.

“Once you get a bunch of guys around and everyone picks a team, it becomes fun and competitive,” outfielder J.D. Martinez said.

Not that Martinez had too much riding in the Spain-Netherlands game, with the draft going the way it did.

“I ended up getting Japan and Ghana,” Martinez said. “They’re both underdogs. But I’m confident.”

It's not an age issue

There might be different reasons closer Joe Nathan is struggling. Friday’s failure to finish the ninth inning in a 2-0 loss was the latest outing, but age isn’t a reason Ausmus said.

Nathan, 39, walked two hitters and hit a batter in 23 innings, walking Eduardo Escobar with the bases loaded to give the Twins their second run.

“You guys keep bringing the age up, (but) he’s six months older than he was last year and it may have been the best year of his career,” Ausmus said. “I understand age may be a factor in sports, but usually you see a decline in velocity and I haven’t seen that in Joe. He’s throwing the same way he was a year ago.”

Ausmus said location has been an issue for Nathan, but “that’s not the result of age. Command issue is one thing, but in my mind it’s not an age issue because the velocity is there.

“Of all things that concern me, that does not concern me. Age is not a problem.”

Around the horn

Outfielder Austin Jackson was hitting second in the lineup against the Twins. He’s hit second, fifth, sixth and seventh in the batting order this season.

“We’ve put him in a number of spots,” Ausmus said. “Other than the heart of the lineup, he can hit anywhere else.”

… Ausmus gave outfielder Torii Hunter the night off, noting the Tigers’ 3 a.m. arrival from Chicago.

“I didn’t get to sleep until 3:30 (a.m.),” Ausmus said.

… Ausmus will monitor right-hander Al Alburquerque after using him in 32 games heading into Friday.

Alburquerque worked an inning Friday.

“We’ve been aware of how much we used Al in the first two months,” Ausmus said. “We’re still going to call upon him late in the game. But we’ll try to be a little more careful about how much we use him.

“We’re going to need him in August and September.”

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Twins at Tigers

First pitch: 4:08 Saturday, Comerica Park, Detroit

TV/radio: FS1/97.1 FM

Scouting report

RHP Samuel Deduno (2-4, 4.45), Twins: Lost his last start June 8 against Houston, allowing five runs on three hits with four walks in three innings. He didn’t earn a decision May 11 against the Tigers, allowing three runs in six innings.

RHP Anibal Sanchez (2-2, 2.24), Tigers: Coming off another impressive start, May 8 against Boston, in which he allowed six hits and two runs. Through nine starts, Sanchez has yet to allow more than three runs in an outing.

Andy Dirks, who is going on a rehabilitation assignment after lower back surgery, hit .256 with nine home runs and 37 RBIs in 131 games last season. / Elizabeth Conley / Detroit News