Tigers’ Cesar Hernandez taking advantage of sudden spate of injuries

Detroit News

Lakeland, Fla. — This was supposed to be the week Matt Vierling dusted off his infield glove and got some game reps at third base and possibly second base.

Instead, he showed up on the Tigers’ injury report Friday. At some point on Monday, he strained his right knee in the game against the Red Sox in Fort Myers. He played center field and went 1 for 2 in that game.

It’s listed a mild posterior knee muscle strain and he could resume light baseball activity as early as Saturday.

The injury interrupted a hot start to his spring. Vierling is hitting .467 (7 for 15) with two homers so far this spring.

Infielder Tyler Nevin, who has been out all week with a left oblique strain, is going to be out indefinitely. The club didn’t release the results of his MRI, but the report said he will resume baseball activities once the symptoms subside.

“This part of camp you start getting guys dinged up and it changes the playing time for a few guys,” manager AJ Hinch said. “I’m more disappointed for those guys because it was reps that were wide open. But we will get them back when we can.”

With Nevin and infielder Andy Ibanez (finger) injured, and with Jonathan Schoop and Javier Báez playing in the World Baseball Classic, several roster hopefuls are getting an extended look.

And veteran Cesar Hernandez has been taking full advantage of it. Coming off a down season offensively last season with the Nationals, Hernandez entered play Friday hitting .412 (7 for 17) with six doubles. He’s also walked three times and was carrying a .524 on-base percentage.

“My eyes were wide open on him when we signed him,” Hinch said when asked if Hernandez’s offensive revival has been a surprise. “He’s been a good player at this level. He’s got a Gold Glove. He’s been a strong contributor on good teams. We knew who we were signing when we got him and he’s done his part to come in ready to play.”

With Schoop gone, most of Hernandez’s reps have come at second base. He’s expected to get more time at third base as camp goes on.

His emergence, though, sets up an intriguing roster debate. Tigers president Scott Harris and Hinch both said one of the goals of this camp and this season was to give opportunity to the younger players being developed in the system.

Hernandez will be 33 on May 23 and he’s fighting for a roster spot against a batch of younger players like Ibanez, Nevin, Ryan Kreidler, Zack Short, Andre Lipcius and Jermaine Palacios.

How does that play with the edict of earmarking at-bats for younger players?

“The young guys have to earn the at-bats,” Hinch said. “They aren’t just free gifts that we give for no reason. Hernandez is here to challenge every player in camp. When you come in as a veteran player on a minor-league deal, he’s going to do his best to fight his way on the team and hopefully it challenges the young guys who have (minor-league) options.

“We feel like he can help us. I think that’s as big a message as you can give the young players. Yes, we’d like our young players to get at-bats, but you want them to earn them.”

Around the horn

Ibanez is expected to remain with Team Cuba until it is eliminated from the WBC (they’d lost their first two games). Hinch, though, said he didn’t expect Ibanez to be able to play in the first round.

chris.mccosky@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @cmccosky

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