Port Charlotte, Fla. — Suddenly, it feels like the Tigers’ starting rotation might be shifting slightly.
There is some concern about the health of right-hander Mike Fiers, who has been hit hard in four starts this spring (12 runs in 11.1 innings).
“He had a stiff back and we had him checked out by a lot of people,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “It’s nothing too awful, nothing more than they thought. Maybe a little bit of a bulging disc. Nothing that should make him miss a lot of time or anything like that.
“But we have to get him through this. The trainers are going to do their work.”
Fiers, whom the Tigers signed for $6 million this offseason, hasn’t mentioned the back issue to reporters all spring. It was pitching coach Chris Bosio who brought it to light.
“He came into camp with a little bit of a back issue,” Bosio told reporters in Lakeland Sunday. “Every guy that’s got stuff hanging in his locker has something going on, and Mike’s no different. He’s got something going on and it’s stopped him from being successful.
“You hate to judge anybody — whether Mike or Mike Fulmer or Daniel Norris — when they’re not healthy. It’s not fair to them. … It’s so unfair to expect them to go out there and power through these injuries when they’re not right. It’s only going to create more problems.”
There has been no talk to this point of shutting Fiers down or having him start the season on the disabled list. Gardenhire said the Tigers will give Fiers a chance to work through it.
“We had to find what it was, because of his performance,” Gardenhire said. “Everything has been up. It’s like, ‘What’s going on?’ So we got him checked out and everything came out as good as it can be.
“We knew he’s had this before. Now we’ve got to get it taken care of. He should be fine. We don’t think it’s any long-term deal. We will get him pitching and get him right back in the rotation.”
Gardenhire said most likely Fiers would work his next start on the back fields against minor-league hitters. That way, the club can control the environment.
“He said he could pitch with this, but we need to see results,” he said. “First inning the balls are flying all over the place and then it takes him two innings to get loose. We have to find a way to get him started earlier.
“But it’s spring training and he’s a veteran, so there is leeway here. But the first thing is, we had to make sure we knew exactly what’s going on and there is nothing there.”
There are six starting pitchers left in camp: Fiers, Opening Day starter Jordan Zimmermann, Michael Fulmer, Matthew Boyd, Francisco Liriano and Daniel Norris.
Bosio said it’s too early to forecast whether Fiers will be ready to start the season.
“We’ll see how he feels tomorrow and then go from there,” he said. “I don’t know what these guys are going to feel tomorrow or the next day or the next day. That’s why it’s a day-by-day thing with all these guys. … It’s a long, long season. (Relievers) Blaine Hardy and Chad Bell — same situation. These guys were hurt, we backed them off a little bit, tried to get them healthy and get them out there.
“All of our players are exactly the same. Try to get them healthy and get them out there and do the best they can. It’s just too long of a season. These guys have been down here since Feb. 1 and we’re asking them to go all the way to Oct. 1 and maybe beyond.”
Zimmermann pitched on the back fields against minor-league hitters Sunday. He pitched five-plus innings of scoreless baseball, allowing four hits with six strikeouts. He threw 66 pitches and 47 strikes.
“I felt as good as you can feel on the back fields,” Zimmermann told reporters in Lakeland. “There’s no adrenaline and you’ve got those A-ball guys that swing at everything, so it’s tough to set guys up, but I felt like it went well.”