Tigers reshaping medical and conditioning staff (sources)

Detroit Tigers

DETROIT — The Tigers are shaking up their medical and conditioning staff after an injury-plagued 2022 season that included a team record-tying 17 starting pitchers and a bevy of traffic on the injured list. Among the changes, according to sources:

• Kevin Rand, the team’s senior director of medical services for the past five seasons and a part of the Tigers’ medical staff for the past 20 years, will not return. He’s on an expiring contract that will not be renewed.

• Doug Teter, who succeeded Rand as head athletic trainer prior to the 2018 season and has been a part of the Tigers’ organization for 30 years, will transition to a to-be-determined role in Lakeland, Fla., where the Tigers have their Spring Training and rehab facilities and where Teter makes his offseason home. It will not necessarily be the same role that Rand held, depending on how Detroit reshapes the department.

• Steve Chase, whose 18 years in the organization include the past two seasons as the Major League strength and conditioning coordinator, will not return.

The moves had been expected as part of the organizational evaluation that new president of baseball operations Scott Harris has been making since joining the organization in September. Harris’ predecessor, general manager Al Avila, was dismissed in August amidst a disappointing season helped in large part by injuries to key pitchers and prospects. Former top prospect Casey Mize underwent Tommy John surgery over the summer and isn’t expected to return until the end of next season at the earliest. Tarik Skubal will miss part of next season after undergoing left flexor tendon surgery. Matt Manning missed much of the season with shoulder inflammation and later a forearm strain, neither of which required surgery to repair. Alex Faedo returned from Tommy John surgery but was limited to 12 starts before a season-ending hip injury. Joey Wentz missed a good chunk of the season with a shoulder issue.

The trio of Mize, Skubal and Manning — arguably the heart of the Tigers’ rebuild — made just 35 starts combined this season. Skubal’s 21 starts and 117 2/3 innings led the staff.

To blame the injuries on the Tigers’ medical and conditioning staff would be unfair. Athletic trainers, like other team officials, were not allowed to communicate with players for much of last offseason until Major League Baseball and the Players Association agreed on a new collective bargaining agreement in March, so many players were out of reach for much of their offseason workout programs and couldn’t report progress or issues. Reliever Kyle Funkhouser, who had an issue during his winter workouts, missed the entire season and underwent shoulder surgery. Add in a shortened Spring Training, and many around baseball wondered how pitchers in particular would handle the ramp-up.

Still, the rash of issues led to a look at the Tigers’ medical system as a whole and how it could be equipped to handle issues.

“I don’t think the injuries can be associated with the strengths and weaknesses of our medical department or our strength department,” manager A.J. Hinch said earlier this month. “It was a really rough year, and those guys worked tirelessly. They were dealing with something every single day of the season. We’re going to look at our processes and see where we can get better and what we do well and what we do below average and try to address all of that.”

In saying that, however, Hinch hinted at a need for synergy between Detroit and Lakeland, where most rehab processes take place.

“You were seeing us send people to Lakeland all the time. Lakeland became overwhelmed with humans,” Hinch said, “and quite honestly, I think it exposed that we can probably enhance that department, and I think it’s something that the organization needs to look into, both in size and strength of our overall program. But it needs to be linked completely together. How we handle our medical program needs to be unilateral across the organization.”

Not yet clear are the situations for the rest of the department. Assistant athletic trainers Chris McDonald and Matt Rankin have been part of Detroit’s staff for three and nine years respectively and have been in the organization for more than 20 years each. Assistant strength and conditioning coordinator Matt Rosenhamer has been on staff for three years.

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