August 26, 2014 at 11:54 pm

Tony Paul

Kyle Lobstein is likely next in Tigers' parade of fill-ins

Kyle Lobstein could be the Tigers' option to fill in for the injured Anibal Sanchez. (Adam Bettcher / Getty Images)

Detroit — Things finally were going the Tigers’ way again, at least a few things. The bats perked up in Minneapolis, with 60 hits over a four-game span. They were able to escape the horror show that was the first two games at Target Field to begin this week’s series against the Yankees with the same 1½-game American League Central deficit they had going in. Justin Verlander was healthy again.

And then came some awful news for Tigers fans Tuesday night, the storm before the, uhh, storm.

Anibal Sanchez felt some sharp pain during his throwing session Tuesday, enough to immediately stop picking up any more baseballs. He had been penciled in to start Saturday, and now might not start again until the first Saturday of 2015.

Even if Sanchez does feel better in the middle of next month, there's no guarantee he'll have time to rehab, and get stretched out. So a complete shutdown might not be far off.

And that would mark the fifth time this season the Tigers had been optimistic an ailing player was approaching a return, only to see that player suffer a serious setback. Jose Iglesias. Bruce Rondon. Andy Dirks. Joel Hanrahan. And now Sanchez.

If the boy cried, “Wolf,” the Tigers are the boys who are crying, “Bull.” Or something more colorful.

Here’s a quick look at how the Sanchez could affect the Tigers as they try to claw their way past the Royals and to a fourth consecutive division championship.

Who starts now?

If Sanchez returned Saturday, he would’ve been on track to make another five or six starts through the end of the regular season. Now, somebody else is going to have to make those starts – a spot starter thrust into full-time duty.

Problem is, the Tigers don’t have an abundance of those.

You could argue they don’t have any.

Robbie Ray and Buck Farmer, God Bless ’em, they’ve been a disaster. That’s not necessarily their fault. They’re just not far enough along in their development to be ready for this stage. The fact they’ve started multiple games is more an indictment on the Tigers, not those two. Drew VerHagen is rehabilitating back stress fractures, and next will be seen in the Arizona fall League.

Then there’s Kyle Lobsten, the best bet to get the start Thursday against the Yankees. He did fantastic work in long, long, long relief over the weekend in Minneapolis. How many major-league debuts have been relief appearances of 100-plus pitches?

As of today, he’s the best bet to get six starts the rest of the way in. And those will be six games the Tigers, probably, need to win, given the hole they’ve dug themselves with this three-month malaise. How much do the Tigers think of Lobstein? Let’s put it this way. When they needed a spot starter Aug. 13, they could’ve called up Lobstein – who’s turn in the rotation was right on schedule – but instead chose Farmer, just off Single A, over Joe Mantiply, a lefty reliever who also spent most of this year with the West Michigan Whitecaps.

The Tigers, in turn, didn’t consider a single pitcher from Triple A. What does that tell you?

Of course, now the Tigers might have no choice.

Outside options?

In a way, the Tigers are fortunate they got this news on Sanchez this week, rather than, say, in a week. Aug. 31 is the deadline for waiver-wire trades, meaning the deadline to make a trade for a player who would be postseason eligible.

The Tigers have worked their magic here before, in recent years on Delmon Young and Aubrey Huff.

But never have they had this ginormous of a hole to fill in August of a playoff race.

Clearly, Dave Dombrowski, the Tigers president and general manager, has been scouring the waiver wire. On Tuesday, the Tigers even were awarded a claim on veteran reliever Chad Qualls from the Astros. The team now has a day or so more to work out a trade, or Houston keeps him.

Odds are, Qualls is staying put. He’s the rare Astro who’s pledged loyalty to the Astros — even, reportedly, signing a contract this offseason with them over the, ahem, Tigers. That shouldn’t factor in to the Astros’ decision, of course. They should’ve sold him on him when they had the chance in July, and now might be trying to correct their mistake.

Too bad for them the Tigers now have a bigger issue to address – and one that won’t be easy.

The two most obvious targets: Veteran right-handers Bartolo Colon (Mets) and Scott Feldman (Astros), both of whom recently went unclaimed on waivers and can be traded without restrictions. Colon’s been the far better pitcher this year, and both come with hefty price tags – Colon due $11 million more next year, and Feldman $18 million over the next two years. Still, the Mets’ and Astros’ asking prices figure to be substantial, given both could fetch a big haul in an offseason trade.

There comes a time when a team simply has to pull a Gene Hackman from “Hoosiers,” throw its hands up and say, “My team’s on the floor.” The Tigers might have reached that time.

Curse of Doug Fister?

The December trade of Doug Fister to the Nationals was a bad one, from Day 1. Not that the Tigers traded him, but rather the haul they didn’t get for him. Some of us have stayed the course in saying it was unwise then, so I don’t feel like a 20-20er in pointing out it continues to bite this team in the rear.

Now, the chorus I’ve heard is this:

But, if the Tigers didn’t trade Doug Fister, they wouldn’t have gotten David Price.

And, yes, that’s probably true. But, if the Tigers didn’t have Doug Fister, they’d also have clearly major league-ready rotation depth, as Drew Smyly could’ve shifted over from the bullpen – where he’d have been had Fister never been dealt – to replace the ailing Sanchez. Now, the Tigers don’t have Fister, they don’t have Smyly, and they don’t have Sanchez, maybe until next April.

Sure, the Price deal figures to pay long-term dividends. He’s here next year, as valuable insurance when Max Scherzer departs as a free agent in November. And there’s a good chance the Tigers take the $144 million offer they gave Scherzer, sweeten it a bit and hand it, instead, to Price. For years to come, the Tigers could have the best rotation in the game.

And the pitching at the lower levels of the minor leagues is so stout.

So, please, forget all that, “The window is closing” silliness. Beyond this year, it’s just not.

For this year, however, it might actually be. The Royals schedule is soft as the sleep-number mattress, outside of two series against the Tigers. The Tigers’ is, too, but a spot starter could impact that. Just look at how the Twins, one of the worst offensive teams in baseball, destroyed both Farmer and Ray.

If there’s one thing the Sanchez injury might’ve cleared up, it’s, “Which starter goes to the bullpen for the playoffs?” Instead, the question now is, “Will the Tigers even make the playoffs?”

They took steps forward over the weekend – and then a resounding step back Tuesday afternoon.

tpaul@detroitnews.com
twitter.com/tonypaul1984