Tigers' JaCoby Jones, Drew VerHagen likely starting season on IL; Opening Day roster back in flux
Lakeland, Fla. — Just when they were set to announce their 25-man roster ahead of Opening Day Thursday in Toronto, the Tigers were thrown into scramble mode by a couple of sudden injuries.
"You finally think you got it figured out, how the roster is going to break down — and we were pretty content with it, we were happy," manager Ron Gardenhire said Saturday after his club rallied for an 8-7 walk-off spring win against the Rays.
Center fielder JaCoby Jones, who sprained his left shoulder in the area of the AC joint in the sixth inning, and set-up reliever Drew VerHagen (forearm strain) will likely start the season on the injured list (this year's new name for the old disabled list).
"He's going to be out a little while," Gardenhire said of Jones. "We don't know the timetable. But he's definitely got a sprain in the AC joint and that means he's going to be out for a while.
"These things don't heal real quick."
Jones, who sustained the injury attempting to make a diving back-handed catch in deep left-center field, was scheduled to get an MRI Saturday night.
"We need him out there," Gardenhire said. "We've got some inexperience on the left side (rookie Christin Stewart) and we got a guy who is still working through it on the right side -- though Nick (Castellanos) has made huge strides in the outfield. I think he's moving really well.
"But that's a very big field we have in Detroit and a guy like JaCoby is huge out there. He's our defense. He protects both sides because he can cover so much in the middle. It's not going to be easy."
General manager Al Avila, assistant general manager David Chadd and Gardenhire met briefly after the game to discuss replacement options.
"We have to go searching on our best routes in terms of what players work to fill the holes," Gardenhire said.
The in-house options, Gardenhire said, are Mikie Mahtook and Niko Goodrum.
"Niko is going to play somewhere every day," he said. "It might be center field. Mahtook is more refined, more pronounced in center field. But Niko can run it down. He hasn't had a lot of reps in center field but I'm not afraid to use him there.
"It's just not the perfect scenario for him to go out there every day in center field. We want to be able to use him at first base and DH, all over the field. We are looking at all our options to cover us in a lot of different places."
If the Tigers chose to dip into their Triple-A pool, Victor Reyes and Dustin Peterson would be options. Reyes can play center, but Peterson is a corner outfielder. Mahtook and Goodrum would still have to fill the void in center.
Top outfielder prospect Daz Cameron, Gardenhire said, is not an option at this time.
"Not right now," he said. "The plan is for Daz to play in Triple-A. Let him run them down down there for a while and see how it goes here. We want to give him time. He's been rushed through a little bit and they (front office) don't want to continue that rush.
"They don't think he's ready for it yet."
As for going outside the organization — former Tiger Rajai Davis is available — Gardenhire said that has not been discussed to this point.
"Injuries happen and we'll get through it," Gardenhire said. "It's just unfortunate this late in camp."
VerHagen, after missing nearly two weeks with an inflamed nerve in his right shoulder, felt some tightness in his forearm after pitching an inning against the Braves Friday night.
"It's not too awful serious but he got an MRI (Saturday) and he has a strained forearm," Gardenhire said. "We will probably put him on the IL, but we can back-date it, so he won't have to be out the whole 15 days.
"But we can't start the season with him tender like that. It's going to be at least three days now before he can throw. We can't take a chance on starting the season and then putting him on the IL."
The Tigers reassigned right-hander reliever Jose Cisnero after the game Saturday. So the fallout could mean that left-hander Daniel Norris will start the season in the Tigers bullpen.
He is one of eight healthy relievers left in camp, along with Shane Greene, Joe Jimenez, Blaine Hardy, Buck Farmer, Victor Alcantara, Daniel Stumpf and Reed Garrett.
Jose Cisnero pitched two scoreless innings Saturday, striking out the side in the eighth inning. As he has all spring, the non-roster invitee who was out of affiliated pro ball last year, was pumping 96-98 mph fastballs.
"We just wanted to see him," Gardenhire said. "All of a sudden we have this big arm and we got him in games and we wanted to see if it was a freak or if he could keep doing it on a consistent basis.
"Every time he came in to a game, he was just blowing it in there."
Cisnero is 30, a former Astro who has been playing in the Dominican, Venezuelan and Independent leagues since coming back from Tommy John surgery in 2015. He will likely start the season in Toledo.
"He's so excited that he's going to stay in baseball," Gardenhire said. "It's exciting for us to see a guy with this kind of a power arm all of a sudden figure it out. It really puts some depth in our organization.
"This guy has come a long way. As he said when he left, 'Thank you for the opportunity and I will see you soon.' You can't get any better than that."