Injured Detroit Tigers SS Javier Báez begins hitting drills in rehab

ATLANTA — Detroit Tigers shortstop Javier Báez has been cleared for baseball activities.

The 31-year-old, who hasn't played in a game since June 8 because of a lower back injury, completed light hitting drills Tuesday in Lakeland, Florida, home of the Tigers' spring training facility, as part of his return-to-play program. He will return to Lakeland on Wednesday for fielding drills.

"That was the plan all along," manager A.J. Hinch said before Tuesday's game against the Atlanta Braves at Truist Park. "That's a good first step to get a little bit more active. It's just step by step, put some building blocks together to get him back doing some baseball things, so that's good."

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Detroit Tigers shortstop Javier Baez bats at practice during spring training at TigerTown in Lakeland, Fla. on Monday, Feb. 19, 2024.
Detroit Tigers shortstop Javier Baez bats at practice during spring training at TigerTown in Lakeland, Fla. on Monday, Feb. 19, 2024.

The Tigers placed Báez on the injured list June 11, retroactive to June 9, with lumbar spine inflammation. The 11-year MLB veteran received an injection last Friday to treat his lower back injury, an issue that has lingered for a couple of seasons. The Tigers haven't shared a timeline for when he's expected to return, but Báez seems to have avoided long-term injury.

When Báez landed on the injured list, he discussed returning for the second half of the season. The halfway point for the Tigers is June 27; the All-Star Game is July 16.

The Tigers need Báez for his defense.

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Fellow infielders Ryan Kreidler and Zach McKinstry have handled the workload at the shortstop position in Báez's absence, but Kreidler — in particular — has struggled on defense, making multiple mistakes within the past week.

Kreidler, 26, is hitting .167 (2-for-12) with two walks and four strikeouts in six games; McKinstry, 29, is hitting .183 (20-for-109) with 10 walks and 33 strikeouts in 48 games.

Báez is hitting .183 (34-for-186) with one home run, six walks and 42 strikeouts in 53 games, spanning 196 plate appearances. He has been worth minus-4 defensive runs saved and minus-3 outs above average, but he is by far the most fundamentally sound defender in the infield.

"He's a veteran guy who has played in every situation," Hinch said of Báez's defense. "The good version of him is incredibly competitive to the day to day, especially on the defensive side, but we don't have him. I don't really spend a lot of time thinking about what could have been when he's not here. We can make the plays while he's gone and getting better."

Báez is making $25 million this season ahead of $73 million in 2025-27 to complete a six-year, $140 million contract he signed with the Tigers in December 2021.

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Alex Faedo ready for rehab assignment

Right-handed reliever Alex Faedo (right hip inflammation) is scheduled to begin a rehab assignment Wednesday with Triple-A Toledo. The 28-year-old landed on the injured list June 5, then completed bullpen sessions last Wednesday and Sunday to set him up for his first rehab outing.

The Mud Hens are playing against the St. Paul Saints, an affiliate of the Minnesota Twins, in St. Paul, Minnesota.

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Faedo has a 3.38 ERA with 13 walks and 29 strikeouts across 34⅔ innings in 21 relief appearances this season. He recently implemented new exercises to keep his pelvis in a neutral position and avoid further injury.

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him @EvanPetzold.

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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Tigers' Javier Báez (back injury) begins hitting drills

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