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Decisions loom for Tigers as outfield gets healthier

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Quintin Berry's place in Detroit seems safe.
Quintin Berry's place in Detroit seems safe.

The Tigers are not in immediate need to make a tough decision. Outfielder Austin Jackson may return to the team from the disabled list as soon as Saturday. Outfielder Andy Dirks could be back as soon as a week later. While this sounds like it could mean trouble for some less-than-stellar regulars in the Tigers' outfield, that isn't necessarily the case.

That's because the two players who'd make the most sense to remove from the active roster are newcomers outfielder Matt Young and relief pitcher Jose Ortega.

I really don't think the Tigers considered Young any sort of long-term solution, or someone who is competing with Quintin Berry, Don Kelly or Brennan Boesch for a spot in the outfield rotation. He was a player who had found some successes getting on the base during his minor-league career, and he'd been playing well so far this year for Triple-A Toledo. He didn't do much in the major leagues for the Braves in the past, and he didn't do much for the Tigers in the limited action he's seen this week. He might still have a little time to show be belongs though, because there's a more pressing change that needs to be made.

Ortega had not been particularly good in the minors, walking a batter per inning this season with the Mud Hens. His promotion to Detroit earlier this week was curious. Now the Tigers are carrying 13 pitchers, rather than their normal 12. So you could see them getting back to a normal ratio soon. You could argue Ortega never really got a shot, but he seemed little more than an insurance policy in the first place. You can't use Duane Below every game the starter stumbles, can you?

So, no tough decisions, per se. On the other hand ...

There would appear to be a surplus of outfielders, won't there? You'll have Jackson, Dirks, Brennan Boesch, Don Kelly and Quintin Berry.

Right now, it seems unlikely Berry would be demoted. The career minor leaguer has made the most of his opportunity with the big league club. He's finding ways to get on base, making dramatic plays in the outfield and providing a much-needed boost on the base paths. Playing in just 15 games, Berry already leads the Tigers in stolen bases. To put it in perspective, Jackson has six steals in 36 games. Miguel Cabrera and Boesch are tied for third with three apiece.

In fact, an argument could be made for Berry to continue as a starting outfielder, giving Detroit improved leather in the outfield alongside Dirks. That leaves the question of what to do with Boesch and Kelly.

Boesch has been bad, as we noted Thursday. Not just bad for a few weeks. Just bad, overall, when you consider his last season-and-a-half of plate appearances. He also appears below-average in the fielding department. Kelly seems pretty capable with the glove, but he's always struggled at the plate. This year he's ailing worse than normal, quietly batting .178 with a .219 on-base percentage and .496 slugging average.

If Boesch does in fact fail to pull out of his struggles -- that remains to be seen, we've seen positive glimmers like Thursday's before that quickly faded -- he might need a trip to Toledo to get back on track. Kelly ... well, he's never been there for his bat. So why would that change now?

It's always possible the Tigers could surprise. Lord knows they've done it several times already this season. And at some point Ryan Raburn may be ready to return from his minor-league stint, too. (He's hitting .167 with .250 OBP and .167 slugging, and battling a hamstring injury like everyone else.) But we'll talk about that when the time comes.

For now, I would just remind that there are quite a few Mud Hens on the team. The ratio of Hens to Tigers will start to go back down soon, unless some playeres make a case similar to Berry's where it becomes impossible to send them down, or unless the Tigers feel a minor-league stint is an absolute necessity to get a player like Boesch back on track.

So choice whipping boys probably won't be going anywhere soon.