Ignore your calendar: For Andy Dirks, it’s spring training.
“I guess you could call it that,” said Dirks, who began a rehab assignment with the Mud Hens Saturday.
This season started out poorly for the outfielder, who suffered a back injury that required surgery on March 1. Dirks originally was expected to be ready to play by the middle of the season, and he began a rehab assignment at Hi-A Lakeland in early July.
He experienced lower back stiffness that ended that assignment. In early August he tried a second rehab assignment at Lo-A West Michigan, but that ended prematurely because of a hamstring strain.
“Part of the rehab process is trying to get the body to move right,” Dirks said. “I had some restrictions early, but as the back felt better I was able to run a little better.
“I was striding a little further, and that may have had something to do [with the hamstring pull].”
Dirks said he has remained patient despite the stops and starts to his season.
“When I tell [the Tigers] I’m good to play, they start the assignment up and I play,” he said. “They’ve been good about it all year.
“They’ve been patient; they understand that a body heals in its own time. We’ve been heading in the right direction. It’s taken a little longer than I’d like it do, but at the end of the day I have to be healthy to perform.”
Dirks said he has remained patient despite the long road he has traveled just to try and get on the field for Detroit.
“I’m just trying to get healthy,” he said. “That’s my job right now: To get back on the field.
“My approach to this is to go out and play baseball. I just want to help the team win games, get a lot of hits and make plays in the outfield.”
HOT, HOTTER, HOTTEST: Outfielder Tyler Collins has collected at least one hit in 11 of his last 13 games before Saturday, batting .298 in that period.
In his first 23 games since the All-Star break, catcher James McCann has hit .380 with 10 doubles and four home runs among his 35 hits.
Hernan Perez entered Saturday’s contest as the hottest Mud Hen of all, batting .414 in his last seven games (12-for-29) with a double, two home runs and seven RBIs.
NO RETURN: Two pitchers who began the season in the Mud Hens rotation will not return to the mound this season.
Lefty Duane Below, who has not pitched since July 28 because of shoulder issues, finished with an 8-5 record and 3.73 ERA in 21 starts for Toledo.
Right-hander Drew VerHagen, who went on the disabled list July 22 after making a start for Detroit, will not return because of lower back trouble.
VerHagen finished with a 6-7 record and 3.67 ERA in 19 starts for Toledo.
PCL HONOR: Baseball America’s “Best Tools” list for the Pacific Coast League included a familiar name for Mud Hens fans.
Former Toledo manager Phil Nevin, currently serving as the manager for Arizona’s Triple-A club in Reno, was named the best managerial prospect in the PCL.
Nevin’s Reno squad entered play Saturday with a 69-58 record. The Aces are second in the league’s Pacific Northern division, just three games behind first-place Sacramento.