Lakeland, Fla. — The Tigers signed right-hander Mike Fiers to eat innings, to make his usual 29 or 30 starts and be a solidifying presence on a staff the features three young starters.
So, from their point of view, it is far less important that he comes north with the club at the end of March and early April, than it is being healthy and productive for the other five and a half months of the season.
That’s why it’s a safe presumption that he will stay back in Lakeland when the Tigers come north next week — either for extended spring training or on a 10-day stint on the disabled list.
“I wish I could go out there and pitch right now, pitch in games,” said Fiers, whom the Tigers signed to a one-year, $6 million deal this off-season. “But they’re looking out for my health, as well. They don’t want me to rush back into it.”
No official decision has been made, of course. But time is running out for Fiers to work through the back stiffness that’s plagued him all spring and build his pitch-count and arm strength up to where it needs to be.
The Tigers have six more exhibition games left before breaking camp March 27.
“We still have another week or so,” Fiers said. “But we’ve got guys who can step in if I am not ready. There is no rush. If I come back in a week or two weeks, whatever the plan is, it’s to keep me healthy.
“It’s not about making that first start. It’s about making the rest of the starts beyond that.”
Fiers, who will be 33 in June, made four spring starts, but didn’t get through four innings of any of them. With the pain and stiffness in his back, he was having trouble getting any life on his pitches, or getting them down in the strike zone. The results weren’t pretty — 12 runs in 11.1 innings.
“He’s got something going on and it’s stopped him from being successful,” pitching coach Chris Bosio said last week. “You hate to judge anybody when they are not healthy. It’s not fair to them.
“All these guys want to play. It’s so unfair to expect them to go out and power through these injuries when they are not right. It’s only going to create more problems.”
Fiers said he hasn’t been shut down, but his throwing program has been significantly decelerated. He takes treatment on the back every day and has done some tossing on flat ground.
“It’s just a process right now of getting back,” he said. “Getting back to how I pitch. Obviously, I wasn’t feeling the best and there were things prohibiting me from throwing how I throw.
“And we didn’t want to continue throwing with the pain. Just get it back right so you don’t mess with your mechanics. That’s the biggest thing.”
As of Wednesday morning, there was no plan for him to pitch, either on the back fields against minor league hitters or in a Grapefruit League game.
“Yeah, no plan,” he said. “It’s really just a day-to-day thing and seeing how I feel. Everything is going well. We will just see how it goes. I understand there are a lot of guys who need to throw. To get back into the rotation, that’s going to take time.
“Whatever happens, happens.”
If Fiers does start the season in extended spring, the Tigers rotation to start the year will be Jordan Zimmermann, Michael Fulmer, Matthew Boyd, Francisco Liriano and Daniel Norris.
Right-hander Matt Manning, rated the seventh-best prospect in the Tigers system by the News and No. 2 by MLBPipeline, will be shut down for an indefinite period of time after being diagnosed with a low level oblique strain on Tuesday.
The Tigers, in a release, said he would rest until he is pain-free.
“We anticipate him starting in extended spring training for a couple of weeks before being activated with Single-A West Michigan,” the statement said.
The Tigers top prospect, right-hander Franklin Perez, will also start the season on the injured list. He’s out for three months with a strained lat muscle.