Tigers' Matt Moore encouraged by early rehab work, trying to forestall surgery

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Tigers pitcher Matt Moore snagged this come-backer in the first inning last Saturday against the Royals. Moore is trying to rehab a knee injury to avoid surgery.

Detroit — You can’t blame Matt Moore for eliminating all other options before agreeing to surgery. 

The MRI on the Tigers’ starting pitcher showed some damage in his right meniscus, something he’s dealt with before. But the knee itself doesn’t feel all that bad.

“You see guys who have a not favorable MRI, but they have no symptoms in that area,” Moore said Tuesday morning. “That might be the case with this. You might be able to see a signal there, but it’s not something that’s debilitating or limiting.

“At this point, we’ve got time to give (rehab) a shot.”

Moore, who has pitched 10 scoreless innings in two starts this season, felt something uncomfortable in his knee after he got the Royals' Whit Merrifield to roll over a curveball last Saturday. He had fielded a bunt on the pitch before and made an awkward throw to first.

Between the two plays, the discomfort in his right knee was enough for the Tigers to pull him from the game, put him on the injured list and have his MRI looked at by three surgeons.

“There’s no signal that any of my ligaments are lit up or inflamed,” he said. “Three different surgeons looked at it and said this isn’t something we’d normally say you have to have fixed because there’s none of the symptoms — pain, swelling, discomfort.”

Still, the injury is in the leg Moore lands on in his delivery. Any instability in that leg, obviously, is problematic. So, the final test will be how it responds after he throws off the mound.

“If there is something there where I don’t think I’ll be able to get through 90 to 110 pitches, then probably my hands will be tied,” he said. “But if it’s a case where I deal with inflammation on day one and day two (after his start), and you just have to squish it out of there — there’s a lot of guys still able to go about their business handling stuff like that.”

To “squish” fluid off an inflamed knee ligament requires a long syringe — not something a doctor would advise every fifth day for five months. But Moore has been encouraged at how the knee has responded to the two workouts he’s put it through since Saturday.

“Had a big work day yesterday, pretty big load, and it’s a little sore coming out of it,” he said. “But I think that’s to be expected. Initially, after the first two days and pushing it yesterday, I am still encouraged.”

If he ends up needing arthroscopic surgery to repair the meniscus — assuming this is a Grade 1 tear — the general timeline for return would be three to four weeks. The recovery time is four to eight weeks for a Grade 2 tear.

“I’ve not thought that far down the road,” Moore said when asked how long he would keep trying to rehab the knee before agreeing to surgery. “It’ll be when I don’t see the thing getting better. If that’s five to 10 days or even two weeks, at that point you start looking at timelines.

“Right now I am just trying to think about things that will affect this more immediately. No speculation about what we’ll do in two or three weeks. I assume it’ll be figured out before then.”

Breakout for Cabrera?

The raw numbers don’t suggest it, but there were indications Miguel Cabrera was due to break out at the plate.

He came into the game Tuesday hitting .235 with no extra base hits in the first 10 games. But, the average exit velocity on balls he puts in play is 93.6 mph and his hard-hit rate (Statcast) is 50 percent. Given that data, his batting average should be .271.

“There are a lot of things I worry about in this game, but Miguel Cabrera isn’t one of them,” Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said. “I’m not going to sit here and criticize or try to tell you what he’s doing wrong, because this guy can still hit and he’s hitting the ball on the nose.

“Is he swinging the best he’s ever swung it right now? No. He’d tell you that. … But I’m comfortable where he’s at. I think he’s swinging the bat just fine. He’s going to light it up here pretty soon with the more at-bats he gets.”

Sure enough, Cabrera ripped a double — his first extra-base hit of the year — and a single against Indians right-hander Corey Kluber.  

He also had one of the Tigers' two hits with runners in scoring position.

"I expand the zone a little bit," he said of his approach with runners in scoring position. "Everything close to the plate I swing at. I want to make something happen. I'm not scared of hitting a ground ball. I am not scared to hit a fly ball or to strike out. Because that's part of the game.

"I go up there, expand the strike zone and try to make something happen."

JaCoby Jones update

Nothing is set in stone, Gardenhire was quick to point out, but there is a chance injured center fielder JaCoby Jones’ rehab assignment will move up to Triple-A Toledo sometime this week.

“It’s all just conversation right now,” Gardenhire said. “We want to make sure he gets plenty of at-bats before we get him up here.”

Jones, out with a sprained AC joint in his left shoulder, played four games at High-A Lakeland. In 19 plate appearances, he was 3 for 15 with six strikeouts and four walks.

Al (Avila, Tigers general manager) has been watching his at-bats, too,” Gardenhire said. “He’d like to see some hits just like I do. But JaCoby is doing fine. He’s starting to have better at-bats. But Al is adamant about it — we aren’t going to just bring somebody back just to bring them back.

“We’re going to make sure he’s ready.”

Jones hasn’t had to dive for a ball yet, but he has made a sliding catch. Gardenhire said all the medical reports have been positive. It’s just a matter of getting him back to game speed.

Around the horn

The Indians announced before the game that right-hander Mike Clevinger would be lost for six to eight weeks with a muscle injury in his upper back. Clevinger was not slated to pitch against the Tigers in this series.

...Tigers left-handed reliever Blaine Hardy has given up two home runs this season. Oddly, both to left-handed hitters — Alex Gordon and Indians Jake Bauers on Tuesday. After giving up three homer to the 90 left-handed hitters he faced last year, he's given up two to the first four he's faced this season. 

Indians at Tigers

First pitch: 1:10 p.m., Wednesday

TV/radio: FSD, 97.1

Scouting report:

RHP Trevor Bauer, Indians: How good has he been in two starts? He’s allowed one hit in 14 innings, with 17 strikeouts. The Tigers, though, have had success against him. Their .292 average and .819 OPS are the highest among teams he’s had at least seven starts against.

LHP Matthew Boyd, Tigers: He’s posted 23 strikeouts and a 52 percent swing-and-miss rate (44 whiffs) in his first two starts. He struck out a career-best 13 at Yankee Stadium in his last start, the most by a Tigers pitcher since Max Scherzer fanned 14 in August of 2014.


Twitter: @cmccosky