After three weeks on the disabled list for a right ankle sprain, James McCann is back with the Detroit Tigers. The team announced his activation from the 15-day DL on Tuesday as the team begins a three-game series against the Indians in Cleveland. With McCann's return, the Tigers also traded catcher Bobby Wilson to the Texas Rangers in exchange for left-handed pitcher Chad Bell, who will report to Triple-A Toledo.
On April 11, McCann was trying to beat a groundout to first base when he and Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman John Jaso collided. McCann was eventually able to leave the field under his own power and had every intention of getting back in the game. However, his ankle had soon swollen to the point where he couldn't walk on it.
The team ordered an MRI and McCann's foot was placed in a walking boot. Test results showed that McCann's injury was a Grade 2 sprain, forcing the team to place him on the DL. Manager Brad Ausmus didn't expect his primary catcher would be out long enough to warrant rehab games, but eventually that was changed, as well.
McCann was eligible to come off the DL on April 26. However, because he needed more time to recover, the team thought it best for McCann to get a few rehab games in before he jumped back into full-time catching duties again. He was supposed to play four games with Toledo, catching for two of those games and serving as the designated hitter for the other half.
In all, McCann played in six games with the Mud Hens. His last three games he served as the catcher, but he didn't play a full game behind the plate until his last two games, one being a rain-shortened affair. The primary concern for Ausmus was McCann being able to crouch behind the plate for a full nine innings. That didn't happen until the last Triple-A game on May 1.
McCann resumes his post as the Tigers' primary catcher, but as he's missed three weeks of regular-season action and the daily grind of catching for nine (or more) innings, his bat may take a while to catch up with him. During his rehab games, McCann had just two hits in 22 at-bats, striking out six times. He did draw five walks, though.
In McCann's place, Jarrod Saltalamacchia has performed well. He had been in one game (April 6) until McCann's injury, during which he had hit a home run against the Miami Marlins. After filling in as the full-time catcher, Saltalamacchia hit five more home runs (three on back-to-back-to-back days) and caught every inning of every game except two -- McCann's injury day and April 22 when Wilson started.
Since his last home run, though, Saltalamacchia has cooled off, batting only .143/.217/.286 with a double and a triple. He's struck out 11 times in the span of his last six games. McCann wasn't slugging the ball real well either before he was injured (two hits and two RBI), but that spanned a total of four games and the season is yet young. Either way, at least the Tigers have their primary catcher back.
Wilson was basically a placeholder for McCann's return. Sending him to the Rangers leaves the organization one catcher shorter, but in return they got a left-handed pitcher. Bell, 27, has bounced around between Single-, Double-, and Triple-A since 2012. He's been at the Triple-A level on a few occasions, starting the 2012, 2014, and 2016 seasons there.
However, he's had trouble staying there in the past, finishing the former two seasons at the Single-A level. Bell missed the 2013 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery on April 3, 2013, which was performed by Dr. Keith Meister. Bell is a 14th-round pick in the 2009 draft, who was intended to be a starter, but has since mostly transitioned to a relief role.
In 2015, Bell finished with a 4.58 ERA in 23 starts, striking out an average of 7.53 batters per nine innings. It's early in the 2016 season, but in two starts (five games total) so far, Bell has a 1.50 ERA in 18 innings pitched, walking five batters and striking out 19.
Bell primarily relies on a four-seam fastball that tops out at 92 mph and his slider (80 mph), mixing in a changeup (85 mph) and a sinker (91 mph). Essentially, he's a bottom of the zone kind of pitcher with an affinity for strikeouts.