DETROIT -- Ryan Strieby understands the frustration, because he feels the same thing.
After back-to-back injury-shortened seasons and a drop down the Tigers' prospect ranks, why wouldn't he be frustrated? Why would he want to be sitting around at Triple-A Toledo in late summer, watching friends and teammates on television getting their chances in Detroit?
He has wanted an answer for his wrist injuries more than anyone else, or at least a solution that can keep him on the field and at the plate rather than on the disabled list. He's hoping he has finally found it.
It might not be the perfect solution, and it might not even leave him pain-free. But it's about as much good news as he has had on the injury front in three years.
"Really frustrating," he admitted at TigerFest last week. "Really frustrating. All you can do is stay positive, I guess. It's been tough."
The positives are difficult to come by, but Strieby is a positive kind of guy, which is what makes his frustration so telling.
"Having another year of experience under my belt, I guess, learning how to deal with it better," he said.
When he's healthy, Strieby is a 6-foot-5 masher, the kind of classic power hitter the Tigers have rarely produced out of their farm system in recent years. His 29 home runs at Class A Lakeland in 2008 not only defied the trend for the Florida State League as a pitchers' league, it provided a statement season for him two years after the Tigers drafted him in the fourth round in 2006 -- the same year they drafted Brennan Boesch and Scott Sizemore. He would've had a 30-homer season if not for a left wrist sprain that ended his season in early August.
He was on pace to repeat his power output at Double-A Erie in 2009, homering 12 times through the end of May, when his wrist acted up again. That sprain cost him just over a week on the DL, but it never quite seemed to heal. He was unable to get through a month on the active roster the rest of the season, and his healthy stretches were well shorter than that.
When he was active, though, he was a dangerous. His .303 average and .991 OPS were easily his career bests, while his 19 homers and 18 doubles meant nearly half of his hits went for extra bases.
"I'd sit out, come back, sit out, come back," he said. "Usually I'd sit out for like a week and then I'd come back. I'd hit like two home runs in two days, and then I'd be out the next day because I'd feel it. And it was just like, 'How could he be hurt? He just hit two home runs in two games!'
"But it's a crazy injury. I can't explain it. I'd swing for a couple days and then it starts killing me."
After offseason surgery, his 2010 season, by contrast, never really got going. He was part of the teamwide offensive funk that grounded the Mud Hens in April, going 7-for-42 with nine strikeouts in 11 games before his wrist forced him to the DL for a month. He played regularly from late May through the end of July, and looked progressively better as a hitter, until the wrist felled him again.
The Tigers wanted to figure out Strieby's wrist problems once and for all. So did Strieby. Team doctors checked him out, then so did Arizona-based hand specialist Dr. Don Sheridan. The end result was that he didn't need surgery, that rest should solve it, but they couldn't guarantee he'd ever get past it.That's not unprecedented news. Baseball players in particular have struggled long term with such injuries, including former Tiger Gary Sheffield. But it's awfully tough news for a 25-year-old prospect one step shy of the big leagues.
"It's one of those things where they said, 'You might not ever be completely asymptomatic at all times,'" Strieby said. "But I just want to keep it at the point where I can be 85, 90, 95 percent. So I'll take my 90 percent against a lot of guys' 100."
So will the Tigers.
"I think finally he's starting to feel much better than he did at the end of the year," player development director Mike Rojas said. "He's still one of the best power hitters in the organization. Being bitten by that [injury] bug with the wrist has been tough on him."
To that end, Strieby has given himself every chance to get close to 100 percent. Until the holidays, he rested his left hand in offseason workouts -- no lifting, no grabbing, no catching.
"I pretty much let it rest completely," he said. "I was only doing lower body and core [work]. I didn't touch any weight until after the holidays."
The Tigers, meanwhile, plan to let him get back to basics. His conversion from first base to outfield, to get him out from Miguel Cabrera's large shadow on the depth chart, will be scaled back a bit. He'll get a good amount of time at first base, where he was playing last July just before he was out. He finished with a .245 average, 10 homers, 49 RBIs and 85 strikeouts in 76 games.
He'll be in Spring Training with the big club, but it's difficult to see him in any roster battles. The biggest thing is for team officials to see him healthy. Do that, and the Tigers can worry about fitting him somewhere, in Detroit or somewhere else.
"This is a huge year for him, I believe," Rojas said. "To come in and play on an everyday basis and show he can play the whole year and be in the lineup every day, I think it's huge for him."
Strieby is positive about it -- cautious, but positive. It's in his nature, but two years of pain in his wrist has been too familiar.
"I mean, it's been such a lingering issue that in the back of my head, I've always been a little worried about it," he said. "But my hand's given me no reason to think I wouldn't be [100 percent] at this point."