Guillen back in lineup healthy and ready
Teammates excited for return as they make second-half push
DETROIT -- When Miguel Cabrera was informed by reporters Friday night that Carlos Guillen would be returning to the Tigers for the first time in almost a year, his eyes widened and a smile from ear to ear came across his face.
Since Guillen returned to the lineup on Saturday, the smiles haven't stopped around the Tigers clubhouse.
The 35-year-old Guillen is everybody's friend in the clubhouse, especially for the Latin American players. After missing almost an entire year, the Tigers hope the switch-hitting bat and veteran presence of Guillen will be a boost as they look to reach the playoffs for the second time in the Jim Leyland era.
"It's good having him back," Ramon Santiago said. "Carlos is a really good player and having him back is really good for the team. If he contributes the way he's capable, we're going to have a good player back from the DL. I'm just happy he's back and hopefully we turn it around."
When Guillen was asked Saturday how it felt to be back, the response was as expected.
"How do you think?" Guillen said with a smile. "It's great. It's been a long time. It's tough."
Only Brandon Inge and Santiago have spent more time as a Tiger among those on the current roster than Guillen, who became a Tiger in 2004. But injuries have forced him tospend a lot of time on the disabled list recently. He has missed about two-thirds of the Tigers' games since the start of '09, a level to which only Joel Zumaya can relate.
It hasn't been a chronic ailment, but it's injuries all over that have been the cause. He's gone through shoulder, hamstring, and knee injuries before, but the latest injury may have been the toughest of all. Guillen's third and final stint on the disabled list in 2010 resulted from a collision on Aug. 16, when the Yankees' Brett Gardner slid into Guillen's left knee on a game-winning double play.
Guillen underwent microfracture surgery on the knee in September to repair a lesion. It's a relatively new procedure in baseball with unclear recovery times. He came back for Spring Training feeling good, but it didn't take long for soreness in the knee to return.
"I was feeling great at Spring Training," he said. "Just one day, I was sitting in my chair, get up and it was tough. "
Once Guillen was placed on the 60-day DL on March 30, his future was in question. Already, the 68 games played in 2010 were the fewest in the Majors for him since '00.
He continued to rehab, but things never got consistent enough.
"Sometimes it was good for one week and the next day it was sore," he said.
But eventually, between therapy and time to heal, his knee improved enough that he began a rehab assignment in Class A Lakeland on June 27. From there, he went to Triple-A Toledo with one game in Double-A Erie sprinkled in. Guillen went 12-for-38 in 11 games in Toledo and was finally feeling good enough.
It was clear early last week that Guillen would be coming up soon. Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski talked to Guillen to see when he would be ready. Guillen said he needed just a few more days.
"[I wanted to] make sure I'm 100 percent," Guillen said. "I had like 10 months where I haven't played every day. You need to get some at-bats, feel comfortable at the plate, feel comfortable in the field."
Finally, the call came Friday. On Saturday, 11 months to the day since his last Major League game, Guillen went 1-for-4 and had six fielding assists.
"It was good, exciting," he said after the debut. "Unfortunately we lost, but that's part of the season."
On Sunday, he went 1-for-3 and drove in the game-winning run with two outs in the sixth inning.
"He's definitely a great player," said Victor Martinez, in his first season with Guillen. "Everybody knows what he's capable of doing when he's healthy and it's huge."
As Guillen gets back into a Major League groove and Tigers manager Jim Leyland puts the veteran out there, the hope is that the career .286 hitter can provide enough to help the Tigers avoid the second-half collapse that has haunted Detroit since Leyland became manager in 2006.
"Any time you get another professional player and professional hitter back in there, if they're performing, that's huge for our lineup," Leyland said. "With Magglio [Ordonez], we talked about that earlier, Magglio hitting and everything, that stretches out our lineup. We'll just have to wait and see. I'll play it by ear.
"I'll play [Guillen] a few days, give him a blow. He hasn't played for a year, roughly. So I'll definitely watch him. But he feels good right now, real eager to go and everything."
It has been a rough couple of years for Guillen, who is in the final year of a $48 million contract signed in 2007. But he has taken it in stride.
"It's part of your career, part of your life, part of the game," he said.
As the Tigers begin a second-half fight for the American League Central crown, Guillen is ready to do what he can to make sure it happens.
"That's where I want to be," he said. "A winning team where you have fun every day, where you're in a pennant race every day. If you're a baseball player, that's where you want to be."
Chris Vannini is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.