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LAKELAND, Fla. — This might be the year that Andy Dirks finally gets to prove he is a full-time major leaguer.
The Detroit Tigers left fielder has flirted with the starting job for two years, but still hasn't played a full season. He was on his way to a regular spot last season until he suffered inflammation in his right Achilles tendon that sidelined him for most of June and July.
Dirks came back and was key down the stretch, ending the season with a .322 average in 88 games, and he batted .274 against left-handers while hitting .336 against righties. Dirks said he doesn't mind being platooned and that it is up to manager Jim Leyland to fill out the lineup card.
“I am just trying to keep everything simple,” Dirks said. “I just want to be on the field and I only control the things I can control. It's up to other people to decide when I should play.”
Leyland said he is being careful with Dirks, especially after the injury. Dirks is unlikely to play 162 games, though he won't be treated with kid gloves.
“There was some indication that almost hinted that the organization didn't think he was an everyday player,” Leyland said. “That's not what I said. I said, ‘I think it's best, from what I've seen so far, not to overplay him.’ There's a difference. I'm not saying Andy Dirks isn't an everyday player. I'm saying that, at this juncture in his career, to get the best out of him, you have to watch him a little bit.”
Dirks said he didn't change a thing after he rejoined the Tigers later last summer. He accepted his role and, with the addition of right fielder Torii Hunter, that leaves only one open spot in the Tigers outfield since Austin Jackson is fully entrenched in center field.
Brennan Boesch is an obvious option. He played 132 games last season, but is another lefty. Boesch was left off the Tigers post-season roster last year. Another lefty is Quintin Berry who played in 94 games in Detroit.
“Without question, I am comfortable playing Andy Dirks every day,” Leyland said. “But you can't burn anyone out. I have other guys I trust out there. I like Andy Dirks a lot. A lot.”