Tigers: Iglesias on target for return to full health

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News
The start of spring training will be a key time in the evaluation of Jose Iglesias.

Still to come are the hard tests that will determine if he can run and shift nimbly, and repeatedly, on a baseball field during successive days and games. But the Tigers are satisfied shortstop Jose Iglesias is closer to a reunion with full health and his vital lineup role.

"At this point, he's progressed exactly as we'd anticipated," Kevin Rand, the Tigers' head athletic trainer, said during a phone conversation from his home in Lakeland, Fla. "Basically, it's a matter of getting him to spring training. And then, in spring training, breaking him in easily to find out if he'll be able to handle the everyday stress of playing.

"But nobody knows that (for certain) until you get to that point."

A bit more reassurance could arrive next week when Iglesias, who missed all of the 2014 season with stress fractures in his legs, has a follow-up examination by his orthopedic specialist, Thomas Clanton, at the Steadman Clinic in Vail, Colo.

Iglesias, who earlier this week turned 25, has been working out steadily at his Miami home and with the oversight of local trainers and rehab specialists, supervised by Rand and by the Tigers' new strength and conditioning coordinator, Chris Walters.

Walters had been an assistant under former chief Javair Gillett, who is now with the NBA's Houston Rockets.

"He's taking ground balls, is into a hitting progression, and has been through the running progression," Rand said of Iglesias. "And now he's started to run sprints. Everything at this point he has done very well.

"He has his visit with Dr. Clanton next week and, hopefully, he'll be cleared for full activity and be ready to rejoin us for regular work in camp (full-team spring drills begin Feb. 24 at Lakeland)."

Rand said one significant difference from last year's spring camp already was on display as Iglesias readies for 2015.

"It bothered him to take ground balls last year, but so far, no issues," Rand said. "We've even moved him into plastics (shoe spikes). He was wearing tennis shoes, and was moving well laterally. Now he's in plastic spikes to make sure his footing is secure, and he's done pretty well."

Iglesias has company as he moves from 2014's miseries and preps for a potentially healthier 2015.

Miguel Cabrera had ankle surgery in October for a bone spur and stress fracture in his right ankle and is at least gaining on a goal to play Opening Day. Bruce Rondon, a Tigers back-end bullpen burner, is now approaching 10 months since he had Tommy John surgery. He could be with the Tigers when they head north for the regular-season opener April 6 against the Twins at Comerica Park.

Cabrera's big test comes in February when he consults Robert Anderson, a Charlotte, N.C., orthopedic surgeon who also repaired the broken ankle of retired Yankees star Derek Jeter.

"His rehab has gone well," Rand said. "He's in a partial weight-bearing stage, six weeks in a boot, which began just before Christmas. He'll got back and see Dr. Anderson next month and hope the CT scan will show that everything's well and that he can move into a full weight-bearing program."

The Tigers, though, acknowledge Cabrera will have work to do even if he gets a thumbs-up at next month's exam. They cannot say with assurance their spotlight hitter will be 100 percent on Opening Day.

Bruce Rondon is returning from Tommy John surgery.

Rondon's situation is also uncertain, although in no way worrisome. Ligament replacement surgery, which was needed after Rondon tore his right elbow ligament during 2014 spring camp, normally requires a full year of recovery and rehab.

The 12-month timetable so far fits almost perfectly Rondon's process and prognosis. The 24-year-old right-hander reported last week to Lakeland, where the Tigers maintain their physical rehab facility at Tigertown, and is moving closer throwing at full strength as he gets ready for what could be at least semi-regular duty during the Grapefruit League season.

"I'd say he's right on schedule," Rand said. "He hasn't moved to a mound yet. He's basically beginning a six-week progression that could get him ready to compete, at least at this point, right on schedule."

Dave Dombrowski, Tigers president and general manager, said this week he believed Rondon would be ready for work in manager Brad Ausmus' bullpen corps by the "early season." Rand doesn't disagree.

"Yeah, I would say there is that chance," Rand said, speaking specifically of Opening Day. "It's a little early for me to make that call, and you never know until he gets on the mound and is competing in games.

"But I'd say there's a chance. And if it isn't right at that point (first week of April), he shouldn't be too far behind that point."