August 9, 2014 at 5:19 pm

Tigers pitching prospect Drew VerHagen has stress fracture in back

Drew VerHagen, in the Tigers dugout during his major-league debut last month, might be out for the season with a back injury. (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)

Detroit — The Tigers are likely to need a spot starter from the minor leagues, and maybe one who can stick around awhile, depending on the extent of Anibal Sanchez’s side-muscle injury.

But it won’t be right-hander Drew VerHagen, who could be done for the season.

According to a source close to the Toledo Mud Hens, the Triple-A affiliate where VerHagen spent this season, he has a stress fracture/reaction in his L4 vertebrae, which is in the lower back. A Tigers source confirmed the nature of the injury.

VerHagen made his major-league debut July 19, but hasn’t pitched since. After returning to Toledo following a nice five-inning start, he quickly was placed on the disabled list with what the Tigers vaguely referred to as a back ailment.

Turns out, it’s a bit more serious than the Tigers initially let out.

VerHagen, 23, a fourth-round pick by the Tigers out of Vanderbilt in 2012, is down in Lakeland, Fla., where he is rehabbing and “will be fine,” the Tigers source said. Surgery isn’t in the plans, though his season probably is over, given the minor leagues wrap up play in less than a month.

He lost velocity upon his return to Toledo, leading some to speculate it might have been a shoulder issue. But that wasn’t the case.

On July 19 at Comerica Park, facing the Indians, VerHagen allowed three runs on five hits. He struck out four and walked three. It was viewed by some as a possible “showcase” start ahead of a possible trade-deadline deal, though VerHagen’s injury put that talk to rest.

The health status of Sanchez isn’t yet known. He traveled back to Detroit on Saturday for tests.

If the Tigers do need a spot starter, their options aren’t great. They likely will have to choose between three Toledo lefties: Robbie Ray, Kyle Lobsten or Duane Below. Kyle Ryan, another lefty recently called up from Double-A Erie, is a fringe candidate to get the call.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

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