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02/15/09 8:07 PM EST

Thomas to be limited during camp

Outfielder recovering from surgery, still in contention for backup spot

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Tigers manager Jim Leyland hopes to have a backup center fielder for Curtis Granderson on the roster. He might have to wait on one of his candidates.

Though no late arrivals are expected when full-squad workouts begin Tuesday, outfielder Clete Thomas won't be able to do all activities. He'll be held out of throwing drills as he recovers from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery.

"He'll be able to hit, go through drills," Leyland said. "But he won't be able to throw."

Leyland said the Tigers are hopeful Thomas can throw by the end of Spring Training.

Thomas underwent surgery to fix a ligament tear in his throwing elbow last September. If he were a pitcher, he'd be facing a much longer rehab process. Since position players don't throw nearly as often or put as much stress on their arms, the rehab is a little easier.

If Thomas can return, he will be a strong in-house candidate for the backup spot. The 25-year-old played all three outfield positions over his 40 games with the Tigers last year, and he racked up four assists from left field. At the plate, Thomas batted .284 (33-for-116) with nine doubles, one home run, nine RBIs and 14 walks. Combined with his work at Triple-A Toledo, Thomas was recognized as best defensive outfielder and best outfield throwing arm in the Tigers' organization by Baseball America.

Once he was sent back to the Mud Hens for the second and final time in mid-July, Thomas struggled down the stretch. He was put on the disabled list Aug. 29 and eventually diagnosed with the tear.

With Thomas limited, the Tigers will have chances to try out others in center in early March once Curtis Granderson joins Team USA for the World Baseball Classic. Ryan Raburn started four games there last season, while Brent Clevlen started in center for three. Brandon Inge had 12 starts in center, but Leyland said he will only play third base barring an emergency.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.