Following time on the disabled list and five Minor League rehab games, center fielder Curtis Granderson made his season debut on Wednesday night against the Rangers at Comerica Park.
To make room on the roster for their star leadoff hitter, the Tigers optioned outfielder Clete Thomas to Triple-A Toledo.
Granderson started the season on the 15-day disabled list after a high-and-tight fastball fractured the metacarpal bone beneath the middle finger on his right hand late in Spring Training.
Granderson batted .350 (7-for-20) in his five rehab games with Class A West Michigan and Toledo, but complained of sore legs. He was removed from his final rehab game on Tuesday at West Michigan in the late innings as a precaution, but he went through an examination and pregame drills without trouble.
The soreness came from not playing for more than three weeks.
"It's amazing how sore and tight they got," Granderson said of his legs before the game. "It mirrored Spring Training. You fight through it and get better."
Granderson's return should give the Tigers' offense a healthy boost. In his second full Major League season, Granderson batted over .300 and became one of four players in Major League history to hit 20 home runs, 20 doubles, 20 triples and steal 20 bases in a single season. His performance earned him a 10th-place finish in last year's American League Most Valuable Player voting.
It would be unrealistic to expect that kind of performance from Granderson from the outset, after a handful of Minor League games under his belt. Still, simply having him in the lineup brings an presence.
"The speed of the game is a little faster up here, obviously," Leyland said. "But he's certainly a welcome addition. He's a very welcome addition. He's a special player, a special guy and it's tremendous to have him back. It's nice to write that name in that one hole tonight."
It's welcome enough for Granderson that he admittedly had a case of Opening Day nerves as he came in from pregame batting practice.
"It's hard to put today into words, because it's like Opening Day," Granderson said. "I'm actually very nervous. There's going to be a lot [of pressure] put on me today by myself, and I just have to get it out of the way."
Thomas, who before this season never played above Double-A, impressed in his first Major League stint. He hit .295 with four doubles, a triple and five RBIs while filling in for Granderson.
"If nothing else, I think Clete Thomas proved that he should be a big league player with the skills that he showed," Leyland said. "I'm going to miss him. I like him. He brings some energy. He's got some speed. He can do some things. But obviously, we're replacing him with a pretty good player."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Scott McNeish is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.