LAKELAND, Fla. — The Detroit Tigers needed to evaluate Andy Ibáñez before making any decisions about his availability to play.
Ibáñez, who turns 30 in early April, is certainly in the mix for a spot on the Opening Day roster. He left his teammates playing for Team Cuba in the World Baseball Classic and returned to the Tigers’ facility in Lakeland for an MRI on Friday to get answers about his left finger sprain.
Ibáñez has been cleared for baseball activities and could play Sunday for Team Cuba in the WBC semifinals.
“It’s possible,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said. “He needs to get through (Friday’s) workout, and we may play him tomorrow, may not, depending on how he feels. But it’s still possible that he could rejoin them.”
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Ibáñez, a right-handed hitter, plays third base, second base and first base and thrives against left-handed pitchers. He has received just eight in-game plate appearances since spring training began.
Not playing in spring games for the past three weeks, because of the WBC travel schedule and subsequent finger injury, won’t impact his chances of making the Opening Day roster.
“He would have been gone (from camp) anyway with the WBC,” Hinch said. “Quite honestly, with the WBC, it hasn’t changed really anything with us. We wouldn’t have had him back anyway.”
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Ibáñez was the Texas Rangers’ Opening Day starter at third base last season. He has hit .258 with eight home runs, 24 walks and 56 strikeouts over 116 games in parts of two MLB seasons.
He sprained his left ring finger during an exhibition game while playing for Team Cuba in the WBC. The WBC semifinals for Team Cuba will take place Sunday in Miami, less than 100 miles from where the Tigers play the Washington Nationals on Saturday in West Palm Beach.
“I feel good when I’m playing with the Cuban team, and I feel good when I play with the Detroit team,” Ibáñez said. “It was difficult (to get injured) because I was prepared for those games.”
Other medical updates
Infielder Tyler Nevin (left oblique strain) is playing catch, taking ground balls and in the early stages of his hitting progression. The 25-year-old hit off the tee Thursday and is expected to take the next step in his hitting drills next week. It doesn’t seem like Nevin will be ready for Opening Day.
Outfielder Matt Vierling (right knee strain) has been completing all pregame activities and advancing through a return-to-play progression focused on running. He won’t play for the Tigers in spring training games this weekend.
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Right-hander Casey Mize (right elbow sprain, lumbar strain) and left-hander Tarik Skubal (left elbow strain) continue to play catch without an increase in volume. Mize is still playing catch three times per week, while Skubal is doing so five times per week.
Fixing his delivery
Right-handed reliever Will Vest has pitched three innings in four games during spring training, allowing eight runs on two walks and three strikeouts. He hasn’t pitched since March 13.
The 27-year-old isn’t injured.
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“He’s doing some delivery stuff behind the scenes,” Hinch said. “We have got to get him moving down the mound the way he normally does, so his extra work has cut into a few of his games, but it’ll pick up now.”
Vest will throw a live batting practice Saturday on the backfields. He posted a 4.00 ERA with 22 walks and 63 strikeouts in 63 innings across 59 games for the Tigers last season.
“He’s just trying to recapture how his delivery is synched together,” Hinch said.
On the field
Gary Jones will coach third base for the first part of Friday’s game against the New York Yankees. He has been on the bench during spring training games while recovering from a knee surgery in the offseason.
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