Bautista went on the 15-day disabled list Saturday, and the Tigers purchased the contract of right-hander Freddy Dolsi from Double-A Erie to take his place. The fact that Bautista shouldn't miss any more than minimum time required on the DL is a relief for a Tigers squad already dealing with injuries, but the Tigers need better relief from Bautista when he comes back.
Bautista left Friday's game mid-batter with two outs in the eighth inning after feeling soreness on an offspeed pitch. An MRI exam on his shoulder showed no structural damage, and so far there's no reason to suspect that he had any earlier problems with the shoulder.
Five consecutive batters had reached base on Bautista with two outs in the eighth, four of them by base hit. He threw 37 pitches in the inning despite retiring the first four batters he had faced upon entering in the seventh. The game was already out of reach, but manager Jim Leyland had inserted Bautista to give him a chance to work on his command after he walked three batters and hit another on Tuesday at Yankee Stadium.
As much as Leyland was happy to hear there's nothing serious, he's still concerned.
"I wanted to get him back out there because of his last outing," Leyland said. "It was a perfect time, not a lot of pressure. He was close to getting out of it and ended up throwing a ton of pitches. That's not good enough.
"I really like Bautista. I'm not down on Bautista at all, but the fact of the matter is simple. If you're going to throw a bunch of pitches every time you go out there for an outing and then you can't pitch for two or three days, then you're not worth much. And I'm not talking about Bautista. I'm talking about anybody. That's just the way it is. So if you want to throw fewer pitches, then throw more strikes. That's as simple as it is. I'm not going to sugarcoat anything."
The struggles are consistent with what Bautista has been fighting throughout his career at previous stops in Baltimore, Kansas City and Colorado. However, he won a spot in the Tigers' bullpen to open the season by showing solid fastball command in Spring Training, setting up his sharp breaking ball and offspeed pitch.
"Bautista's got to do one of two things," Leyland said. "He's got to be able to pitch and throw some pitches, or he's got to be able to throw strikes and less pitches if he can't take the pitch strength. You normally throw a lot of pitches if you throw balls, so the key to Bautista is to throw the ball over the plate, like anybody else."
If Bautista is ready to pitch again as hoped before 15 days, the Tigers could send him out for a brief Minor League rehab assignment.
Bautista becomes the third member of the Tigers' bullpen to hit the disabled list, joining the two setup men he was trying to replace. Both Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney started the season on the DL. Zumaya isn't expected back until at least the All-Star break, while Fernando Rodney has yet to pitch to batters. Both have been working out at the Tigers' Spring Training complex.
The Tigers had just gained a potentially big bullpen piece this week when they activated Francisco Cruceta. Bautista's injury weakens them again.
"Bautista, that's a blow," Leyland said, "because he's got a good arm and that. But I think if you get enough innings out of starters, I think we can mix and match until we get everybody back."
Dolsi made an impression on Leyland and Tigers coaches as a non-roster invitee in Spring Training. He followed that up by striking out 11 batters over 7 1/3 innings with five runs allowed at Class A Lakeland before he was promoted to Erie last week. He threw three scoreless innings in three games for the SeaWolves. Player development officials recommended Dolsi as the best reliever ready for the call.
Dolsi was en route to Minneapolis on Saturday evening from Altoona, Pa., where the SeaWolves are playing this weekend. He should be available for Sunday's series finale.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.