July 8, 2014 at 8:48 pm

Tigers outfielder Andy Dirks begins injury rehab assignment

Tigers outfielder Andy Dirks began an injury rehabiliation assignment Tuesday at Single A Lakeland. (Elizabeth Conley / Detroit News)

Detroit — Andy Dirks’ return to the Tigers as an active player still isn’t around the corner.

But at least it can be measured now in weeks, instead of months.

And the number of weeks will probably be three.

Dirks, the left-handed hitting outfielder of the Tigers who has been on the 60-day disabled list since March 29 because lower back surgery, joined Single A Lakeland on Tuesday for an injury rehab assignment.

He led off and played left field on Tuesday night, going 1-for-3 with two runs scored.

He’ll be treating it, as will the Tigers, like the start of spring training for him.

“We’ll evaluate him daily,” said trainer Kevin Rand, “but the most important thing will be for him to get as many at-bats as he can in 20 games.”

Dirks has been taking swings, and playing in the field during simulated games in Lakeland. But the start of his rehab assignment will represent Dirks’ full return to all the activities that would be required of him upon rejoining the Tigers.

“He’s done a lot of outfield work,” Rand said. “He’s ready to play. This is his spring training.

“Everything has kind of come together for him in his preparation. Now it’s a matter of putting it together on the field.”

Despite dropping to .256 last year after hitting .322 in 2012, Dirks still was headed for a major role on the Tigers this season if he hadn’t hurt his back.

By the time he joins the team, if all goes well from this point on, there will be two months of the regular season remaining for him to make a contribution.

If the Tigers already are wondering how they’re going to make roster room for him, though, they’re not tipping their hand.

“We have roughly three weeks before a decision has to be made,” Ausmus said. “A lot can happen between now and then.

“But if everything remains the same, we’re going to have a tough decision.”

Because Dirks got hurt so early in Ausmus’ tenure as Tigers’ manager, what the 28-year-old outfielder brings to the table for the Tigers isn’t exactly the most vivid thought for Ausmus.

“We certainly knew we were losing a guy we were counting on,” said Ausmus. “But out of it came J.D. Martinez, and he’s done pretty well.

“It was a blow we got early, but as it seems all teams do, they find a way of filling the gap until that player comes back.

“Now we’re on the verge of getting Dirksey back. I’m sure we’ll use the full 20 days because he’s almost starting from scratch.

“Hopefully the rehab assignment goes without a hitch.”

Victor still out

The Tigers are still taking it day-to-day with sore-sided Victor Martinez, whom they hoped would be back in the lineup on Tuesday night, but wasn’t.

“Because of the timeline with the All-Star break, it’s been broached, but not considered,” Ausmus said. “It’s just a standard, day-to-day situation.”

Rand also said that relief pitcher Joel Hanrahan (recovering from right elbow surgery) threw “a 25-pitch bullpen” on Saturday but is not back to facing live hitters.

Around the horn

The Tigers signed their fourth-, eighth- and 21st-round draft picks: Adam Ravanelle from Vanderbilt; and Artie Lewicki and Whit Mayberry, both from the University of Virginia. All three are right-handed pitchers.

The team has signed 17 of its top 20 picks.

... Four players at Double A Erie have been named All-Stars for the Eastern League All-Star Game on July 16. They are right-hander Jose Valdez, catcher Ramon Cabrera, infielder Corey Jones, and outfielder Steven Moya.

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