DETROIT -- The Tigers have not made a full turn through their rotation yet, but they already have a starting pitching decision looming now that Mike Fiers is ready to return from the disabled list.Fiers, who opened the season on the 10-day disabled list with a lumbar strain in his
DETROIT -- The Tigers have not made a full turn through their rotation yet, but they already have a starting pitching decision looming now that Mike Fiers is ready to return from the disabled list.
Fiers, who opened the season on the 10-day disabled list with a lumbar strain in his back, threw 83 pitches over six innings in a Minor League intrasquad game at Tigertown in Lakeland, Fla., on Monday. He was back at Comerica Park on Tuesday morning and said he's ready to go this weekend in Chicago.
"In five days I'll be out there again," Fiers said. "Just against the White Sox instead of Lakeland."
Manager Ron Gardenhire said they'll discuss Fiers' upcoming assignment between the coaching staff and front office, but he gave every indication Fiers will make his Tigers debut shortly.
"We have to talk with a few people here and make a decision, talk about where we go next," Gardenhire said. "But the trainer's report came in and he's great. Now we'll make some decisions."
The competition in the intrasquad game wasn't as important as the endurance for Fiers, whose back issues hampered him through Spring Training before he was shut down in mid-March. Fiers said he pitched better with each inning, which is a twist from his previous intrasquad game start in Lakeland last week.
"I definitely got better as the game went on," Fiers said. "Early on, I wasn't as sharp as I was [later]. The first two innings, I was still kind of getting loose, and then I think three through six I felt really good. That's kind of what the plan was: Throw pitches, and if I didn't throw a good one, come back with it. That's what I was doing, and I felt great."
Jordan Zimmermann is currently scheduled to start the series opener on Thursday in Chicago, followed by an off-day Friday. Michael Fulmer and Francisco Liriano would be on turn for the rest of the series Saturday and Sunday, weather permitting. Fiers becomes eligible to be activated from the DL on Thursday.
Daniel Norris filled Fiers' rotation spot when the season began, but thanks to the weather in Detroit, he has yet to make a start. He's currently scheduled to start Wednesday's series finale against the Royals, though the forecast calls for windy, chilly conditions with a chance of snow in the morning.
Moving on up
The Tigers have made an adjustment with James McCann with his catching, moving him closer to the plate in an effort to improve his ability to frame and block pitches.
"He's working on it," Gardenhire said. "He's definitely a little bit farther up than he was. He was back there a pretty good ways."
The shift might explain in part why McCann was called for catcher's interference in a key situation on Opening Day. Bench coach Steve Liddle, who was a catcher in the Angels and Twins farm systems during his playing career, has been working with McCann.
"He's working on it," Gardenhire said. "Steve's been working really hard at him on setup and everything to block balls. He's just a big guy, and that makes it a little more difficult back there when you're a strong guy. You really have to work a little bit harder than some of those smaller guys that set way down on the ground. He has to really work about getting his glove down where we want it [for a target]. But he has worked really hard."
McCann has ranked average to below-average in pitch framing ratings during his Major League career, though some Tigers officials have questioned the usefulness of the ratings as a measurement of a catcher's skill set. McCann was charged with 10 passed balls last year, more than he suffered during his previous two-plus seasons combined, while pitchers threw 34 wild pitches with him behind the plate.
• Gardenhire said he's working to target Daniel Stumpf for specific hitters as the only left-hander in the Tigers' bullpen. Stumpf entered Monday's 6-1 win over the Royals to face Jonathan Jay with one out and nobody on in the eighth inning, then stayed in to face Whit Merrifield. In a closer game, Stumpf might have started the ninth inning to face the left-handed-hitting Mike Moustakas.
• Reliever Johnny Barbato, who opened the season on the disabled list with a right forearm strain, also continues to progress in Lakeland and could soon he activated, Gardenhire said.
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.