Iglesias in camp early, with spring in his step

Tigers shortstop healthy, ready to go after missing all of 2014 season

Iglesias in camp early, with spring in his step

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Jose Iglesias' 2014 season ended when Spring Training had barely begun. So it made sense that he'd try to get his 2015 season going early.

After missing all of last season with stress fractures in both shins, the Tigers' shortstop couldn't wait for the offseason to end, making the trip from his Miami home to Spring Training in Lakeland a couple of days ago. Position players don't have to report until Monday.

And he let everybody know he was back, from the neon orange cleats on his feet, to the smile on his face to the excitement in his voice.

"I want to make sure everybody knows I'm here," Iglesias said. "I've been gone too long."

He's not only back, he should be better than before. More important than the smile, there's a bounce in his step, whether he's taking ground balls in the infield or simply waiting around the cage for his turn in batting practice. It's the step of a healthy player who not only can compete again, but do so without the nagging pain that dogged him for at least a year -- way back before his July 2013 trade from Boston -- and before the fractures were discovered last March.

"I'm free and pain-free," he said, "good to do whatever I need to do to put myself in a good position."

It's the Tigers' goal, in their caution, to keep him that way. After watching their shortstop position struggle last year without him, they can't afford the same misfortune in 2015.

"He's a tremendous defender, a Gold Glove-caliber defender, so that immediately strengthens our defense at a premium defensive position," manager Brad Ausmus said. "Also, he's a guy that can run bases, steal bases, put pressure on a defense not only in the box, but when he's standing [on base]."

Iglesias spent this weekend doing nearly everything on the field, even though formal workouts have yet to start. He ranged to either side fielding ground balls, which he couldn't do without pain last spring. He worked on double-play turns with coach Omar Vizquel, and took batting practice with the rest of the early-reporting Tigers hitters.

His only limitation at this point is his running. He's ramping up his speed, but he's still cautious. Once the Tigers' Alter-G treadmill arrives for Miguel Cabrera's rehab work, Iglesias plans to do his sprints on the treadmill to regulate the weight on his feet.

"I'm about 85-90 percent [speed] still," Iglesias said. "Like I said, I don't want to rush it. Still maybe like two months left and we'll see how the coaching staff wants to handle it."

Ausmus wants to be more cautious than most.

"It's very encouraging," he said, "but there are a number of hurdles that have to be crossed before I'll feel really good about Iglesias' situation, the biggest of which is being sure his legs can withstand the pounding of daily baseball activity. …

"I'm going to try to build him up a little bit into it, but at some point before we get to April we need to know if he can take it on a daily basis for a number of games."

That assurance is not a given, which is why Ausmus is considering regular days off for Iglesias even if he gets through Spring Training healthy. That puts a premium on the backstop shortstop position, for which Andrew Romine and Hernan Perez are battling.

"I'm just concerned more about the long haul than I am some specific incident happening," Ausmus said. "I'm just worried this might sneak back up on us over the course of a few months if we don't pay attention to it."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.