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Andy Dirks begins rehab assignment in Single-A, Tigers hopeful for three-week return

Andy Dirks has been out of commission since March for back surgery. Tuesday he started his rehab assignment in Lakeland and is expected to return to the Tigers within the next three weeks.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

DETROIT — Five months after the Tigers lost their primary left fielder to back surgery, the team said Tuesday that Andy Dirks has started his rehabilitation assignment with Single-A Lakeland.

Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said he anticipates Dirks' return sometime in the next three weeks, and along with his return will come a difficult roster decision. "I think there's 20 days of rehab, so we have roughly three weeks before a decision has to be made," Ausmus said. "A lot of things can happen between now and then. If everything remains the same, we're going to have a tough decision." (h/t Dana Wakiji, FOX Sports Detroit)

Of course, due to the timing of the injury Dirks essentially did not participate in spring training, which means his rehab will also serve as spring training, although a significantly shortened one. Head athletic trainer Kevin Rand said they will take things easy with Dirks and keep him in Florida until they feel he is completely ready to make the transition to Triple-A Toledo.

"We're going to start with three at-bats, he'll play five innings defensively and then we'll judge him, kind of judge him daily," Rand said. "The most important thing is getting his at-bats, giving him as close to 20 games as we possibly can. He told me on the phone, ‘I'm ready now. I feel like I'm ready, just as I would be ready to start spring training.'"

"He's been working in the field, but he hasn't been playing, because he hasn't had any games he could play in. We've been doing simulated games, that sort of thing. He's done a lot of outfield work. He's ready."

While the loss put the Tigers in a difficult position at the time, Ausmus said it hasn't all been for the worse, and some positives have resulted in a situation that looked bleak at the time.

"We certainly knew we were losing a guy we were counting on," Ausmus said. "A couple of things happened that wouldn't have happened that I guess are positive. Tyler Collins made the big-league roster, first time he's ever done that — although he wasn't here for a very long period of time."

"J.D. Martinez came out of this. And he's done pretty well. It was certainly a blow that we got early, but as it seems all teams do, they find a way to at least temporarily fill the gap, until that player can come back. Now we're on the verge of getting Dirksy back, and hopefully the rehab assignment goes without a hitch."