LAKELAND, Fla. — This is a crucial spring training for Brennan Boesch, whose spot on the Detroit roster is far from certain.
After tweaking an oblique muscle, the 27-year-old outfielder knew better than to take any chances.
"I'd say I'm optimistic that I'll be able to be out there in the next day or two," Boesch said Sunday. "The most important thing is not rushing it, so I get all the at-bats I need in spring to compete and prepare for the season."
Boesch definitely doesn't need a nagging injury right now. He was left off the Tigers' postseason roster after hitting .240 last year. Now he's in the mix for playing time in left field, but Detroit has other options who, like Boesch, hit left-handed. Andy Dirks and Quintin Berry are competing for playing time at that position as well.
The Tigers saw enough in Boesch's potential that they signed him to a $2.3 million deal to avoid arbitration. He's hit 42 homers in three seasons with Detroit, and at 6-foot-4, he can be a powerful presence in the batter's box. But hasn't quite had a year when everything came together.
In 2011, he hit .283 with 16 home runs in 115 promising games, but he missed the entire postseason that year because of a right thumb injury that required surgery.
At this time last year, he was penciled in to hit second for Detroit, right in front of Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. But Boesch wasn't at his best in 2012. Not only did his batting average slip, but he struck out 104 times and drew only 26 walks.
The Tigers signed Torii Hunter in the offseason to play right field, and with Austin Jackson entrenched in center, there's only one more outfield spot available.
Dirks hit .322 in 314 at-bats last year. Berry stole 21 bases without being caught. There's a lot on the line for Boesch, and he has a lot to prove.
Manager Jim Leyland didn't have too many details about Boesch's injury.
"I just can tell you he's got an oblique," Leyland said Sunday. "He's not going to participate today, and I'm not going to expound on it."
Boesch elaborated a bit, saying he hurt himself while swinging Saturday.
"I took one swing that didn't feel right, came in yesterday, and the trainers aren't too worried about it," Boesch said. "It wasn't just normal soreness. It was something that you have to take a little bit more seriously."
Detroit begins exhibition games Friday against Atlanta, so if Boesch's optimism is well founded, he could be back by then.
"Not too concerned, but at the same time, it's causing me to miss a day or two," Boesch said. "It's part of being an athlete. It's never fun, but there's not a guy in here that can't say that they've gone through it, especially in February. It's much worse in June or July, when you're battling during the season."