DETROIT -- Cameron Maybin picked up a bat, stepped into the batter's box and took his swings against Jordan Zimmermann during Zimmermann's simulated game Sunday morning. A couple of hours later, he was taking swings in a game that counted.
The Tigers activated Maybin from the 15-day disabled list before Sunday's 10-5 victory over the Red Sox, several days sooner than expected. After weeks of bad news on the injury front, it was the first surprisingly good development for the Tigers in a while.
"We're approaching the corner," manager Brad Ausmus said. "I don't know if we're turning the corner."
Shortstop Dixon Machado was optioned to Triple-A Toledo to make room for Maybin. Machado had been filling in for injured Jose Iglesias, but lost the starting job when the Tigers traded for Erick Aybar earlier in the week.
Maybin, who hit a two-run single Sunday, hadn't played since Aug. 3 while dealing with a left thumb sprain that seemed unwilling to improve. Once he started swinging a bat Thursday, however, he progressed quickly.
Ausmus had originally pegged Maybin on track to return next weekend. After Maybin felt good taking batting practice in the cage Saturday, however, the timetable accelerated.
"Talking to Cam [on Saturday] night before we left, he felt like he was ready," Ausmus said. "We had the simulated game this inning."
It wasn't necessarily vast physical improvement, Maybin said Sunday afternoon, so much as determination to play.
"I just wanted to play," Maybin said. "It's going to hurt. It's going to feel the same on Tuesday as it did today. But sometimes you have to play through a little discomfort."
The simulated game had been scheduled for several days, and the Tigers had left open the possibility that Maybin could at least get a look at live pitching. The way Maybin felt, however, he was ready to swing, and he made contact with a few Zimmermann pitches. That was enough for the Tigers to give him the go-ahead.
Maybin rejoined a lineup that had been struggling to fill his customary spot between leadoff man Ian Kinsler and No. 3 hitter Miguel Cabrera, especially once Iglesias joined Maybin on the DL.
Four different players batted second while Maybin was out; they combined to hit .221 (15-for-68) with three runs scored.
"He's a tremendous catalyst when he's in the lineup," Ausmus said of Maybin.
Said Maybin: "We have some big games coming up, and I feel like I'm a big part. I just want to play, and right now, we have a lot of guys playing banged up. That's just part of it. I have to stomach it and battle."
Maybin struck out his first two at-bats against Red Sox lefty Henry Owens before flying out. Defensively, he received a similar test, with a half-dozen fly balls over the first four innings.
He left after the two-run single in the sixth as a precaution, with the Tigers holding a 10-1 lead.
"It's not like it's completely healed," Ausmus said. "There's a little bit of tenderness, and certainly the speed of a Major League game is a little bit different than even a simulated game. So just get him out of there, let him get some treatment and have the off-day to rest [Monday]."
Iglesias to begin rehab assignment Monday
Iglesias might not be far behind Maybin in returning to the lineup. The slick-fielding shortstop joined Maybin among the hitters in Zimmermann's simulated game, and will begin a rehab assignment with Triple-A Toledo on Monday.
Iglesias, out since Aug. 12 with a left hamstring strain, will play at least four games for the Mud Hens, beginning at designated hitter Monday at Louisville before moving to shortstop.
Iglesias took two at-bats against Zimmermann in the simulated game, then ran the bases under the watch of Tigers head athletic trainer Kevin Rand. He seemed to be moving without limitation.
Zimmermann on track for rehab start Friday
As for Zimmermann, who hasn't pitched since Aug. 4 due to an aggravation of his right neck strain, he threw just over 30 pitches in his rehab outing Sunday, including curveballs and sliders.
"His ball looked good," Ausmus said. "He had some finish on the fastball."
Assuming Zimmermann comes out of one more side session Wednesday without issue, he'll join Toledo on a rehab assignment beginning with a start Friday at home against Columbus.
Zimmermann will most likely make three rehab starts, according to Ausmus. That would take him to the end of the Mud Hens' season Sept. 5, and the Tigers would bring him back after Major League rosters expand Sept. 1.
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.