VIERA, Fla. -- Jose Iglesias has been diagnosed with stress fractures in both legs, an ailment that is expected to leave the Tigers without their slick-fielding shortstop for at least five months. The team confirmed the news on Thursday, a few days after Iglesias first revealed the news to reporters.
Iglesias is set to be re-evaluated in four months, at which point he could begin to work toward a return. The Tigers expect him to be fine for 2015 but are preparing for the strong possibility that he will not play this season.
"Perhaps he'll be back late in the year," team president and general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "But in my thought process, that's more unlikely than likely at this time."
For the Tigers, it's a crushing blow that arguably changes the discussion on how to fill the void, although Dombrowski and manager Brad Ausmus both insisted the team remains focused on internal replacements. For Iglesias, the rehab process finally gives him a road map to rid himself of the shin issues that he says have bothered him since the start of Spring Training last year with the Red Sox.
"It doesn't get better," Iglesias said on Monday. "I've been doing every kind of treatment, but the pain is still really high. It makes sense now because it's a fracture. It's not going to go down until the fracture is better."
Iglesias' ailment was originally termed a stress reaction when he was first sidelined at the end of February, similar to shin splints but to a different degree of severity. An adjustment in his orthotics, combined with rest and medication, got Iglesias back on the field for batting practice and infield work, but he still felt the pain when he ran, especially when he tried to stop.
Nothing, not treatment, not orthotics adjustments, alleviated that. Eventually, Iglesias visited another specialist last week in Florida for an additional examination, which Iglesias said revealed the fractures.
Iglesias spent Tuesday in Colorado visiting with another foot and ankle specialist, Dr. Thomas Clanton, at the Steadman Clinic, where a CT scan was recommended to look at the shins and a course of treatment was recommended.
Since the shins are weight-bearing bones, part of the process requires taking weight off and allowing fractures to heal. That will limit Iglesias to non-weight-bearing activities such as biking, swimming and upper body work. Yet physical healing is only part of the process. In some cases, diet and metabolism can play an underlying role.
Iglesias is continuing to undergo tests as doctors try to figure out why the stress reactions never healed. The 24-year-old had issues with his shins last season, but various tests failed to reveal fractures, and Iglesias was able to play.
"This is a very rare situation for somebody at any age, but particularly a young individual," Dombrowski said.
Now the Tigers must figure out how to cope with the loss of a player they expected to man shortstop on an everyday basis this season.
"It certainly hurts," Ausmus said. "We were hoping that Jose would be able to flash his glove for 150 games or so, but plans have changed, and the important thing for him is just to take care of this stress fracture issue and get back as soon as he can, and we'll try to fill the gap in the meantime."
Speculation has centered on external options, but Dombrowski declined to comment on free-agent shortstop Stephen Drew, who is attached to Draft pick compensation and would cost Detroit a first-round pick. He also said that while he has engaged in normal talks with other general managers, he hasn't "had any serious, big-time trade discussions."
Infielder Danny Worth, who has spent parts of the last four seasons with the Tigers, got the start at shortstop on Thursday against the Nationals. Steve Lombardozzi and Hernan Perez also are in the mix, along with Eugenio Suarez, a 21-year-old who has yet to play above Double-A.
Ausmus indicated that the solution could be one player or multiple players manning the position, but the focus is on the internal candidates, with defense being the priority.
"We're not going to find anybody that's going to play as good a defense as Iglesias," Dombrowski said. "He's an important member of our club. However, the part I want to emphasize is the defensive aspect to it, so we're going to look for somebody who can play solid defense, that we feel comfortable with late in the game if there's a ground ball hit to him in the ninth inning with a 3-2 lead that can make the play. That's more important for us than finding somebody that maybe can give us more offense."
Other clubs already have reached out to offer the Tigers defense-oriented players, Dombrowski said, but he feels the club already has players who are capable with the glove.
"I think this club can win with somebody that plays shortstop defensively well for us," he said. "I think we can find that type of player. Again, they won't be as good as [Iglesias], but we can find that type of player."
Ausmus called the process of evaluating players based on limited Spring Training action "unfair," but he knows he has no choice. The first-year skipper plans to lean on people who have been in the organization for a long time -- including former manager Jim Leyland -- to share their opinions on the various options.
As for Iglesias, Dombrowski knows he feels bad about the injury. The two have been trading texts, and Dombrowski wants to make sure he doesn't push himself too hard trying to come back.
"He feels bad that he's letting everybody down, and I told him, 'You'll be fine,'" Dombrowski said. "You've got to make sure you follow what the doctor says, because these things need to heal. You can't help injuries."
Andrew Simon is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB. Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason.