In 2012, a 26-year-old outfielder named Andy Dirks made a lasting impression on the Detroit Tigers when he posted a .322 batting average and an .857 OPS through 88 games. The following spring, Dirks went north with the Tigers as their starting left fielder after Brennan Boesch was released and Quintin Berry was optioned to the minors.
However, Dirks got off to a very slow start in 2013, which many thought was due to a knee injury he sustained in Spring Training. He ended the first half batting only .243, but he was able to raise his overall batting average to .256 with a strong second half. Although Dirks played in a career-high 131 games in 2013, he ended the season with fewer doubles and triples than he had in 2012.
This winter, many were predicting that Dirks was going to have a comeback season in 2014, but those hopes were brought to a halt when it was announced in early March that he would be missing at least three months with a back injury.
Since then, Rajai Davis, the man who Dirks was originally slated to platoon with in left field, has essentially gone out and taken the starting job. Davis currently owns a slash line of .337/.389/.442 with two home runs, 10 RBIs and 11 stolen bases. He is performing far better than anyone anticipated he would. He is also hitting right-handed pitching, which has come as a bit of a surprise as he has struggled mightily against RHP in recent years.
However, the jury is still out on whether or not Davis can continue to perform at this level, or if he will revert to being the player the back of his baseball card says that he is.
At any rate, there will still be a role for Dirks to play upon his return. Although the Tigers’ offense has been exploding over the past week, and Victor Martinez and Alex Avila have indeed been chipping in, the overwhelming majority of the damage has been done from the right side of the plate. The Tigers could use one more dependable left-handed stick, and that is where Dirks could come in.
It should be noted that for as much as Dirks struggled in 2013, he still batted a respectable .260 against right-handed pitching. Moreover, he was significantly better when he batted in the top third of the lineup.
Dirks hit a stellar .311 in 106 at-bats in the leadoff spot, and a solid .272 in 81 at-bats in the two-hole. The Tigers seem to be very happy with their leadoff duo of Davis and Ian Kinsler, but manager Brad Ausmus is a guy who will look at the numbers, and perhaps he might consider giving Dirks a chance to bat second against right-handed pitching.
Batting Dirks in the two-hole, though, would likely make Torii Hunter a permanent fixture in the No. 5 spot, which might be a mistake as he has really thrived batting second over the past few seasons. Only time will tell, however, how Dirks will be used upon his return, which could still be a while. Dirks has now been moved to the 60-day DL, and his return date has yet to be set, but many are not expecting to see him until mid-June or perhaps even early July.
Regardless of the role that Dirks is given when he does return, he can be expected to make meaningful contributions for the Tigers down the stretch. He has shown during his time in a Tigers uniform that he has the talent and potential to do so.