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Andy_Dirks_picAndy Dirks flew out to center field to end the Tigers’ 4-3 loss against the Yankees on Thursday afternoon. But that’s no indication of how he has played since coming back from the DL. In fact, he was playing great before he suffered a nagging Achilles tendon injury. What was thought to be a day-to-day ailment turned into over a two month absence. Dirks hadn’t played since May 31 before returning on August 3. He hasn’t missed a beat after his lengthy break from game action.

After the game on May 30, Dirks batting average was .328. With nine hits in his six games played since coming off the DL, Dirks has raised his average up to .349. The 6-0, 195 pound lefty has forced Leyland to give him more playing time in a crowded outfield.

Austin Jackson has been a fixture in center field but the other outfield spots have been in flux. Delmon Young, Quintin Berry, Brennan Boesch, and newly acquired Jeff Baker are competing for the other two spots. Young spends most of his playing time at DH and Boesch earns plenty of time in right field. Baker profiles as more of a platoon player against left-handed pitching. That leaves Berry and Dirks competing on most nights for a spot in left field.

There is no question that Berry brings a different element to the Tigers. His speed is something that Dirks can’t match. But Dirks just hits and he has been driving in key runs in the games he has played this year. While Dirks won’t necessarily play every day, if he continues to hit the way he has lately, he will force his way into an outfield spot on most nights.

This is Dirks second year in the big leagues and this is turning into a breakout year for him. Last year, in 219 at-bats, Dirks hit .251 with a .702 OPS. In his 147 at-bats this year, Dirks raised his OPS to .922. So, is Dirks really as good as he has shown in his limited at-bats this season?

For a little background, the Tigers selected Dirks in the 8th round of the 2008 MLB Amateur Draft after he spent four years playing college ball at Wichita State. During his senior year for the Shockers, Dirks hit .388 with 11 homeruns and 26 steals. He spent parts of five years in the minor leagues including parts of three seasons at Triple-A Toledo. In 306 at-bats at the Triple-A level, Dirks hit .326 with an OPS of .913. His overall minor league numbers were solid with a .289 average and a .779 OPS. Dirks was ranked as the #11 prospect in the Tigers organization after the 2010 season.

As you can see by his prospect ranking in the Tigers’ system, talent evaluators and scouts never projected Dirks to be a star. But he has a good pedigree and has helped add some depth to the Detroit lineup. The Tigers don’t really need stars. They already have mega stars in Verlander, Cabrera and Fielder. They need someone like Dirks who comes to the park everyday ready to contribute in any way he can. It remains to be seen whether Dirks can continue hitting like he has so far this year, but until he stops he should find his way into the lineup.