What Javier Báez’s IL stint means for the Tigers and for his season

DETROIT — The back issue kept flaring up, so when Javier Báez and A.J. Hinch met on Sunday, they decided it was time to do something about it.

“He let me know it was harder and harder for him to feel like he could get through the game,” Hinch said. “We had him looked at. He saw the doctor. He got imaging.”

The result was this: Báez is going on the 10-day injured list with lumbar spine inflammation. The Tigers called up shortstop Ryan Kreidler from Triple-A on Tuesday in place of Báez.

The back pain has been a recurring issue for the Tigers’ shortstop, who in spring training talked of getting his back healthy but has gone on to hit only .183 with a one home run and 27 wRC+, making him once again one of the worst regulars in all of baseball.

Tuesday in the Tigers’ clubhouse, Báez was pre6paring to travel to Florida to follow up with doctors he visited this offseason.

“It wasn’t really an easy decision for me because I obviously want to be out there,” Báez said. “But if I want to help the team out long term I got to do this and try to come back for the second half and help the team.”

There is no way of knowing exactly how much the lingering back issues have impacted Báez’s performance over the past two seasons. For all of Báez’s faults, he has consistently fought to stay in the lineup and played through minor aches and pains for the duration of his Tigers’ tenure. But now 31, Báez has been reminded in more ways than one that he is no longer the invincible young player he was with the Cubs. He is making $25 million this season and due $73 million over the next three years.

“My body doesn’t let me play right now,” he said. “On my swing, it doesn’t let my body go back to the pitcher or to second base … Just kind for giving me a pinch that I’ve been getting used to. I think it’s time to take a deeper look at it and see where we go from that.”

The Tigers expect Báez’s IL stint to be longer than 10 days, but there is no clear timetable beyond that.

“I haven’t seen the doctor yet,” Báez said. “But like I said, I just want to be able to hit the ball again and play like I play.”

How the Tigers will handle shortstop in Báez’s absence 

Ryan Kreidler is an excellent defender, but he hasn’t shown he can hit in the majors yet. (Meg Oliphant / Getty Images)

The Tigers are glad to finally have Ryan Kreidler healthy and available. The infielder who may be the best defensive player in their entire system has been plagued by injuries for the better part of the past two years.

But now with Báez out, he may finally get a prolonged look in the major leagues.

“I told Ryan this is probably gonna be the first time in his major-league career where he feels like he’s in the mix a little bit more,” Hinch said. “With that, I also told him, ‘Don’t try to be anything other than your best.’ It’s so hard for a player trying to break in and establish himself to try to do too much or do more.

“We love his defense, love his energy. Baserunning acumen is good. The bat has always been the question … but we have a very reliable defender and someone who’s probably overdue to get a couple at-bats in the big leagues to see where it can take him.”

Kreidler, 26, made a compelling case for the roster in spring training, when he posted a .916 OPS over 45 plate appearances. He was ultimately sent to Toledo, where his progress was again derailed when he was hit by a pitch in the first week of the season. Kreidler fractured his right finger and needed surgery.

“Brutal,” Kreidler said. “Lakeland, Florida, isn’t a vacation destination this time of the year, no offense. It’s been a long couple years for me with injury. Some tough breaks. But just stick your head in the dirt, and you come out the other side.”

Kreidler began a rehab assignment in the lower minors on May 22 and returned to Triple A on June 3. The questions about his bat, however, persist. Kreidler has hit only .165 in 91 previous MLB at-bats. He had a 50 percent strikeout rate in seven High-A rehab games and a 41.4 percent strikeout rate in nine games with Triple-A Toledo.

Because of this, don’t expect the Báez injury to represent any changing of the guard at shortstop. Kreidler still has much to prove, and he will share the shortstop role with Zach McKinstry until Báez returns. Kreidler will start against left-handed pitching and should get some at-bats against right-handers, as well. Expect plenty of in-game substitutions, including two-for-one instances where Hinch could, for example, hit another player for Kreidler and then insert McKinstry in the field.

“Hopefully it’s a short time for Javy and then he’s back with us soon,” Kreidler said. “But gonna embrace it and try and play hard and keep these guys in the mix and do my part on defense and win some games.”

(Top photo: Duane Burleson / Getty Images)

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