‘Best possible outcome’: Exam clears Tigers’ Jose Iglesias to prep for 2015

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

Detroit – He had been dealing for the better part of a year with shin splints, which for any athlete can be more aggravating than disabling.

But then shortstop Jose Iglesias’ condition turned more serious, rocking the Tigers’ 2014 spring camp and wiping out for an entire season their best option to play the infield’s most pivotal position, shortstop.

Iglesias had stress fractures — in each of his legs. Not until Tuesday, following an examination in Vail, Colo., did Iglesias get news that doctors and the Tigers expect will restore a 24-year-old infielder to his regular job in 2015.

“It was the best possible outcome,” said Kevin Rand, the Tigers head trainer, speaking ahead of Wednesday’s scheduled game against the Royals at Comerica Park. “If it didn’t go well, there was a chance for surgery.”

Rand relayed details from this week’s exam that was overseen by Thomas O. Clanton, an orthopedic surgeon, and director of foot and ankle sports medicine at The Steadman Clinic in Vail.

“As far as Dr. Clanton is concerned,” said Rand, “the bone (in each leg) is healed.”

The Tigers traded for Iglesias in July of 2013 and were counting on one of the game’s more skilled and colorful defenders to settle in for his first full season with the Tigers in 2014. But he arrived at spring camp complaining of recurring shin pain that had first surfaced in early 2013 when he played for the Red Sox.

Iglesias rested during the early weeks of spring training at Lakeland, Fla., but the pain persisted, in both legs. In early March he traveled to Vail for his first appointment with Clanton, which led to a diagnosis of stress fractures in each shin.

A carefully constructed recovery program has been in place as Iglesias has rehabilitated in Miami, where he lives. Iglesias had a follow-up exam with Clanton in early June, which indicated progress. But not until this week’s appointment did Iglesias get an all-clear to begin a steady offseason conditioning and strengthening program that should return him to shortstop when 2015 camp begins in February.

“We’re very pleased and it’s very encouraging,” said Dave Dombrowski, the Tigers president and general manager who six months ago had gotten reasonable assurance from Clanton that Iglesias would recover, if not this year, in time for 2015.

“I think what happens is we just didn’t know what was going on. It was an unusual situation, so we’re glad to know he’ll be fine. You’re always waiting. But, with injuries, you wait a lot in this game.”

Rand agreed Iglesias’ double-fractures were rare and offered no preceding case studies. The Tigers were left to monitor Iglesias’ recovery routine, which included exercising in a pool. Rand said Iglesias will continue to be monitored to see how “he handles weight-bearing” on both legs.

A more traditional off-season strength and conditioning regimen is anticipated for late autumn, Rand said, in keeping with any other year for a big-league player.

Iglesias’ return could dramatically change the Tigers’ infield profile in 2014. One option would allow Eugenio Suarez, a 23-year-old rookie who has been the more regular fill-in at shortstop in 2014, to get more seasoning next spring at Triple-A Toledo, where he was stationed ahead of a June call-up.

The Tigers also have Hernan Perez, 23, a middle infielder who can play either shortstop or second base, and who had big-league experience even before he rejoined the Tigers this month. Perez, like Suarez, can play either shortstop or second. In 133 games at Toledo in 2014, Perez batted .287, with a .735 OPS.

The Tigers consider, as well, Double-A Erie shortstop Dixon Machado to be part of a growing middle-infield glut. And that overload could lead to a trade, either during the offseason, or in 2015, depending upon how Iglesias performs.

Machado, 22, had a breakout season at Erie in 2014, batting .305 with an .832 OPS. Over the season’s last three months, Machado, a right-handed batter with a sterling glove, hit .353, including .436 in the season’s last month.

The Tigers, theoretically, have an option at second base should Iglesias be ready for Opening Day and Suarez, as well as Perez, convince the Tigers front office that either could be trusted on the infield’s right side.

But the Tigers have gotten brilliant defense from Ian Kinsler in 2014 and will be reluctant to risk any serious makeovers there, even if Kinsler, 32, carries an expensive contract. Beginning in 2015, the Tigers will owe Kinsler, minimally, $46 million through 2017, and as much as $53 million if they exercise a full 2018 option.

Tiges GM Dave Dombrowski wasn’t of a mind to talk about future plans Wednesday, even as reassuring news arrived from Vail.

“It’s exciting,” he said of Iglesias’ prospects for 2015 and beyond, “but right now our focus is to win now. It’s just nice to know he’s coming back.”