Detroit Tigers: Injuries Opening Doors for Young Players


May 21, 2015; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers catcher James McCann (34) celebrates his walk off home run in the eleventh inning against the Houston Astros at Comerica Park. Detroit won 6-5 in eleven innings. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Before we get to this article, I want to take a moment to remember what this day represents. Thank you to all of the men and women who have served our nation and thank you to the families of our troops for the sacrifices you have also make every day.

The Detroit Tigers have dealt with injuries to some of their key pieces in 2015, but they have avoided complete injury depletion. The Tigers injuries have not haunted them, because young players have risen to the occasion.

The player who has stepped up most has been Kyle Lobstein in the absence of Justin Verlander. Lobstein has started 8 games this season with a 4.34 ERA and 1.448 WHIP. Those numbers are high overall, but he has only given up more than 3 runs twice in his 8 starts and has gone at least 5 innings in all but one of his starts, 6 innings in 5 of his 8 starts, and 7 innings in 3 of those 8 starts.

Lobstein’s numbers also compare favorably to Verlander’s from 2014 and what Verlander’s numbers most likely would have looked like if he pitched injured once again in 2015. Verlander had a 4.54 ERA in 2014 and a 1.398 WHIP. He needed the time on the DL to completely heal so he can perform the best he can at this point in his career. We are not going to see MVP caliber Verlander again, but the Tigers need him to at least resemble his former self. Lobstein’s performance has allowed the Tigers to keep Verlander rested so he can come back healthy.

Lobstein was brought in to be the fifth starter, not an ace. He has done a fantastic job in being a fifth starter. Now that he has gone to the disabled list with a sore shoulder, it is Buck Farmer’s job to make the most of his opportunity as he is called upon to be the fifth start in Verlander and Lobstein’s absence.

The other most prominent player to fill in for the Tigers during the recent stretch has been James McCann. The Tigers were easing McCann into the big leagues in a platoon with Alex Avila, but since Avila went to the DL, McCann was promoted to the everyday catcher.

Entering Sunday’s game, McCann had a .300/.330/.444 split in 90 at bats with the Tigers with two home runs (one an extra-innings walkoff and the other an inside-the-park). He has done everything the Tigers have asked and more behind the plate. He has handled the pitching staff well, and has thrown out 44.4% of baserunners in 2015 which is 3rd in baseball. When Avila returns from the DL, the Tigers will have an interesting decision to see who will get more reps behind home plate.

Now that Victor Martinez has officially gone to the DL, more young players have the opportunity to rise to the occasion. Tyler Collins was recalled from Toledo making him the frontrunner, but he is battling for playing time as the Tigers have turned to J.D. Martinez and Rajai Davis to split time at DH and right field. Collins will need to make the most of pinch hitting opportunities (like Preston Tucker did during for the Houston Astros) to earn more regular playing time.

The other place the Tiger have had major young contribution is their bullpen. Angel Nesbitt, Blaine Hardy, and Alex Wilson have been pleasant surprises this season, helping stabilize the Tigers’ bullpen. Nesbitt has gone from the last player to make the roster out of Spring Training to a reliable late innings reliever with a 3.12 ERA, 0.981 WHIP and only 3 of 17 inherited scoring against him on the season. Sunday’s outing was not good, but it was his first poor outing in five appearances. Hardy has become the go to lefty for the Tigers out of the bullpen with a 3.12 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, and a .233/.294/.267 split against left handed batters. Wilson has been the jack of all trades for the Tigers, retiring both left and right handed batters in one out situations and long relief. He has a 2.41 ERA and a 0.75 WHIP after being recalled from Toledo and just had a 14 consecutive scoreless innings streak snapped on Sunday.

The Tigers have had a lot of young contributions, but they may not be done. Collins could still contribute, Moya can still be called up and produce this season, and the Tigers may get something out of newly promoted Dixon Machado if they decide to keep him over Hernan Perez. Even though their farm system is constantly rated as one of the worst in baseball, the Tigers have found a way to turn their prospects into Major League talent through trades in the past, and have produced some Major League talent for themselves this season.