DETROIT -- Joe Nathan could be ready to return from the disabled list by the end of the week. And the Tigers, in turn, could soon be forced to make a decision on their closer.
Nathan, who has spent the last couple weeks on the disabled list with a right elbow flexor strain, is scheduled to make a rehab appearance Wednesday for Triple-A Toledo. The Mud Hens have a 10:30 a.m. ET game scheduled as part of a School Celebration Day promotion, meaning much of the crowd at Fifth Third Field will be school kids on field trips.
"I'm looking forward to it," Nathan said. "They said I could start the game. I said, 'No, thank you.' I said I'll treat it as a regular routine, but I think that was more so I don't have to throw at 10:30."
Though Nathan said he hasn't discussed the next step beyond that with Tigers officials, he said he could probably be ready to return on Friday after a day to rest his arm.
Manager Brad Ausmus was noncommittal on such a timetable, though that isn't unusual for him given the way rehab stints for Justin Verlander and Bruce Rondon hit obstacles.
"It could be one [rehab appearance]," Ausmus said Tuesday. "We'll see how it goes."
Ausmus has steered clear of questions about the closer role for the past several days. That included his postgame media conference Monday night after Joakim Soria wrapped up his fifth save in as many opportunities with a perfect ninth inning.
"We'll worry about that when Nathan comes back," Ausmus said.
The time might be coming up this weekend.
Nathan said he has been very happy with his recovery from an injury that has given other relievers more lingering problems.
"From a lot of the history with this injury, it's a big question mark. It could take a long time," Nathan said. "Flexor injuries before, from the guys that I've known that have had them, can tend to linger on for quite a bit. Credit to the training staff and patience. We did the right thing when we needed to, and hopefully we're on the tail end of it now.
"I don't want to say we're out of the woods by any means. We still have bruising and stuff to deal with. But from where it was to now, it's very minor."
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.