Tigers rookie gets taste of big leagues

Rookie gets taste of big leagues

DETROIT -- Michael Hollimon got a nibble of Major League action earlier this week. This weekend, the Tigers' rookie infielder could get a heavy helping.

Hollimon made his first Major League start on Friday against the Dodgers at Comerica Park. He filled in at shortstop for Edgar Renteria, who sat out the game as a precaution to rest a sore left pectoral muscle. Hollimon made his Major League debut on Monday, but only played one inning and fouled out in his only at-bat.

Tigers manager Jim Leyland said earlier in the week that Hollimon, called up from Triple-A Toledo to fill in for injured infielder Ramon Santiago, could see action in two games this weekend: one at short, the other at second.

"I feel good about it," Leyland said before Friday's game. "I haven't seen him play much, but I'm sure Hollimon's pretty good. He's doing pretty good in the Minors. We'll see what he looks like."

Hollimon, a 6-foot-1, 185-pound switch-hitter, was rated the fourth-best prospect in the Tigers' system before this season by Baseball America. He suffered a separated left shoulder during Spring Training, but looked good for the Mud Hens when he returned.

Toledo's leadoff man returned 18 games into the season with a flurry of home runs. He had 12, to be exact, which tied for sixth in the International League. Seven of those dingers came in May during a 31-at-bat span for a player who has never hit more than 15 home runs in a season in his four-year Minor League career. At Toledo, he hit .250 with 11 doubles, three triples and 21 RBIs.

"He absolutely loves to be on the field," Tigers director of player development Glenn Ezell said. "He works hard to get better, and he's relentless in that regard."

His success last season boosted him from the 15th-best prospect to the fourth, and he looked like a solid bet to serve as any injury replacement during the season. But injury struck near the end of Spring Training.

Playing third base late in a game March 17 against the Reds, Hollimon dived to right to snare a screaming grounder, an act that ended his Spring Training with the Tigers.

"I had a beat on it, but it hit a rock, it hit something. It didn't hit the bag, but it jumped straight up," Hollimon recalled. "When I'm diving, the ball goes up, I reach back, it went over my glove, and when I came down, my elbow hit, and when my elbow hit, my shoulder popped out. It was pretty gross."

That night he visited the local hospital for an MRI exam to check for structural damage. Hollimon didn't know what to expect, with this being his first shoulder injury.

"As soon as it happened, there's a bunch of initial thoughts that run through your head," he said. "You try not to think about those for too long. But when the results came back, and they said there was no structural damage, I let out a big sigh of relief."

However, Hollimon started the season on the disabled list and stayed in Florida to rehab his shoulder. His exercises focused on recapturing full range of motion in the injured shoulder and rebuilding strength in his stabilization muscles.

He aimed to return for Toledo's first game, but his shoulder wouldn't allow it.

"What I thought could happen and what the shoulder was telling me would happen were two different things," he said.

Ezell called him in Florida. He said not to rush the rehab. Ezell had a goal for Hollimon: get strong enough to play through September, the end of the Minor League season, and, possibly, any games with Detroit after that.

So Hollimon took his time. That is, until he returned to Toledo in late April. He wanted to quickly play at a level parallel with his teammates, who had been playing for almost a month.

"It was a tough read for me, because I wanted to catch up to everybody in a week, and that was impossible," he said. "I think the way I went about it was a little bit too anxious, but over the last couple weeks I've slowed everything down."

It has paid off.

He tried to slow everything down when he jogged onto a Major League field for the first time Monday against the Indians. He played the ninth inning at shortstop, but did not make any plays. He had one at-bat, which ended abruptly after Indians third baseman Casey Blake made a diving catch in foul territory.

For him, his debut felt like the blink of an eye.

But he sees a silver lining.

"It was nice to get my feet wet," Hollimon said before Friday's game. "Now I know what to expect, as far as visualizing how everything is going to be. I'm happy and definitely ready."

Scott McNeish is an associate reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.