Bautista, currently on the 15-day disabled list with right shoulder tendinitis, began his comeback process on Thursday with a short session of catch with closer Todd Jones off of flat ground. It was his first throwing of any kind since he left last Friday's game at Minnesota with his shoulder flaring up.
Bautista felt a little sore after about 15 throws, he said, but better overall. The more accurate judgment for the Tigers' athletic training staff will be how the shoulder feels on Friday after a night's rest. If Bautista experiences nothing more than reasonable soreness, he should be able to progress quickly and throw off a mound soon. The fact that he hasn't missed very much time from pitching works in his favor.
Still, the Tigers will want Bautista to pitch in a Minor League rehab stint before he returns. It's not simply about ensuring that his shoulder is close to full strength, but ensuring that his command is coming along with it. That was in question before he got hurt, though he said he didn't feel any tendinitis until throwing a rare changeup last Friday at the Metrodome.
He threw almost all fastballs the previous Tuesday against the Yankees, he said, because he couldn't get a comfortable grip on the ball. It was slipping out of his hand, he said, and he ended up walking three batters and hitting another.
Last Friday, then, "I hadn't thrown a changeup yet," Bautista said. "I just threw one changeup the other day, and that's when I felt something a little bit."
Regaining his command, he indicated, is a matter of duplicating the form he had earlier this year. He won a setup job out of Spring Training by spotting his fastball consistently, limiting his walks and setting up his breaking ball. Now he has to find that form again.
"I don't worry about it," he said, "because you know I did a good job in Spring Training. I just have to [throw] my fastball for a strike, and then keep doing the same thing that I was doing in Spring Training and the same thing to start the season this year. I just have to work a little bit with my fastball, just go back to the command I had in Spring Training."
If that includes a rehab assignment, so be it, even though he has a right to decline it.
"If they want to send me down there to throw a couple innings, I have to go," Bautista said. "I just want to get my arm healthy and go down there and throw some innings and be ready to play baseball in a big league game. I have to face some hitters before I join the team. I'll just see what happens next week and then go from there."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.