DETROIT -- By all indications, Andy Dirks won the primary starting duties in left field out of Spring Training. Just under a month into the season, however, Dirks has not been an everyday player, even against right-handed starters.
The Spring Training right knee injury he sustained crashing into the fence at Joker Marchant Stadium might explain why.
"He couldn't play yesterday. His knee was sore," manager Jim Leyland said Friday afternoon. "[It's] better today, but I'm not sure about playing him. That's been an off-and-on thing."
Dirks wouldn't have started Friday's series opener against the Braves regardless, not with a left-handed pitcher on the mound. Matt Tuiasosopo started in left against Paul Maholm, and presumably will do the same Sunday night against lefty Mike Minor.
It's the starts against right-handers that have been affected. Don Kelly's start in left on Thursday was his fourth of the year. Dirks has started 12 games, the fewest of anybody who was in Detroit's Opening Day lineup.
Dirks has struggled at the plate, batting .167 (8-for-48) with a double and four RBIs. His 12 strikeouts in 58 plate appearances is a higher rate than his previous two Major League seasons.
He has played more than two consecutive days only once this season, a four-day stretch last week on the West Coast trip. That might not be a coincidence, given that the West Coast trip is the one stretch of consistently decent weather the Tigers have enjoyed this season.
"He's just had a couple of continued flareups," head athletic trainer Kevin Rand said. "He still has some inflammation in and around the joint, and as a result, I think he probably had a little bit more of a reaction to the cold weather the other night. I think that kind of bothered him a little bit. And so we just have to treat it symptomatically."