Kansas City, Mo. — Grayson Greiner’s road back to the Tigers just got significantly longer.
Greiner, who began the season as the primary catcher, was pulled off his rehab assignment in High-A Lakeland after his lower back flared up on him again.
“He had a setback,” manager Ron Gardenhire said before Friday's game against the Royals. “It’s the same back issue, but it’s to the point now where he’s not going to be able to play for a while.”
Greiner, who last caught a game for the Tigers on June 13, had played four games at Lakeland and was 0-for-9 in 13 plate appearances. He was hitting .162 when he went on the injured list.
“He started playing and he was fine,” Gardenhire said. “Then he started feeling it again. They took a scan and saw something. Not a break, but a stress area, so they’ve immobilized it.”
Greiner was put in a brace and all baseball activities have been shut down indefinitely.
“We don’t think it’s anything long-term,” Gardenhire said. “It’s just something that we need to get under control right now.”
John Hicks and Bobby Wilson will continue to share the catching duties. But at some point, possibly before September, top catching prospect Jake Rogers could be summoned from Triple-A Toledo.
Harrison on the mend
When second baseman Josh Harrison decided to have his left hamstring tendon surgically repaired in early June, the chance of him getting back before the end of the season seemed remote.
Not so remote now.
Harrison, who has been working out and maintaining a physical therapy regimen in Lakeland, Florida, could be starting on a rehab assignment soon.
“Josh is doing great,” Gardenhire said. “We just had a plan written out on him. He’s going to start playing, maybe eight games or so. We want him to get 35-40 at-bats.”
If everything stays on track, Gardenhire said he expects Harrison could rejoin the club at the end of the month when they go to the West Coast and play at Seattle and Anaheim (July 25-31). Harrison has been limited to just 36 games this season.
The exact dates and location of his rehab assignment haven’t been decided.
The pitching plan
Left-hander Gregory Soto, who has made seven spot starts, is beginning the second half working out of the bullpen. But it’s clear the Tigers haven’t settled on how they want to use him.
“There will be a time when we are running through all these games where we’re probably going to have to have him,” Gardenhire said. “But we are also talking about keeping him in the bullpen and using some of the other guys (to start).”
Ryan Carpenter, who started the first game out of the All-Star break at Triple-A Toledo, would be on track to start for the Tigers on Tuesday in Cleveland — which is when the No. 5 starter spot comes around again. General manager Al Avila said it was also likely the Tigers would take a longer look at lefty Tyler Alexander in the second half, as well.
The way things are trending, there will be plenty of opportunities. Not only is there a chance No. 1 starter Matthew Boyd will be traded before the end of the month, both Spencer Turnbull and Daniel Norris will be facing innings restrictions later in the season.
“That’s going to come up,” Gardenhire said. “Both of them are under 100 innings and the most they have thrown is like 140 or so. We’ll just go by how they’re feeling. But we are definitely paying attention to that, for sure.
“And problems are going to arise after that (after they shut them down). Where do you go? How do you stop that? But that’s two young pitchers in their first full year. It’s not anything other teams don’t have to deal with. We’ve dealt with it in the past. But not with two guys. Normally it’s just one.”
And veteran Tyson Ross, who is out with a nerve issue, doesn't look to be returning anytime soon.
"He went to see another doctor," Gardenhire said. "There's really nowhere else for them to go. They don't see anything. Now it's just whether he can pitch through it. He has to find a way to pitch with it."
Shifting the shift
The Red Sox, particularly Andrew Benintendi, have convinced the Tigers to adjust their philosophy on shifting with runners in scoring position. Benintendi beat the Tigers shift several times during the series at Comerica Park last weekend.
"We've gotten beat up a little bit lately, guys shooting the ball the other way and getting easy RBIs," said Gardenhire, who talked at length to his middle infielders during a pregame workout. "We talked about making adjustments on that."
The Tigers had been staying in the shift with runners in scoring position. Now, against certain hitters, they will play more straight up defensively when there are runners at second and/or third base.
"We watched that last team (the Red Sox) do that against us and they were pretty successful," Gardenhire said.
Part of the problem remains, though, with the Tigers' pitchers not pitching to the plan.
"With some of our pitchers, we don't always locate it well," Gardenhire said. "Some of our younger guys (he mentioned Norris and Turnbull) misfire and it makes it really hard to play the shift.
"The analytics are telling us how to get them out. We should be able to throw it there. But we misfire and that's why we end up giving up some hits. We're leaving big holes to guys we know can hit the ball over there. Make them earn their hits."
Tigers at Royals
First pitch: 7:15 p.m. Saturday, Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City, Mo.
►LHP Matthew Boyd (6-6, 3.87), Tigers: In his last two starts before the break, he struck out 24 hitters in 12.1 innings. He ended the first half with 142 strikeouts, the most before the All-Star break since 1972 when Mickey Lolich fanned 156.
►RHP Brad Keller (4-9, 4.47), Royals: His two starts against the Tigers tell the story of his season. In 11.1 innings he struck out nine but walked eight. He has an 11.3 percent walk rate this season. He’s been better at home, though, holding opponents to a .191 batting average (.281 on the road), and a 1.2 WHIP (1.6 on the road).