Wednesday: The fifth starter race rolls along

Jim Leyland had an interesting way to describe what happens to prospects contending for big-league roster spots for the first time as they survive camp cuts and the once-crowded clubhouse begins to clear out:

“I always like to look — and shortly, the numbers are going to go down more — when you start to look at guys that are still here. Do they look like a deer in the headlights? If they do, you probably have the wrong guy. If they come in like they belong here and go about their business and everything, then you probably have the right guy.

“If they come in here all of a sudden and start looking around like, ‘Oh my god, there’s 18 pitchers left in and gosh, I’m one of them,’ if they start shaking like a dog [dropping] peat seeds, that’s not good.”

No, I imagine it’s not.

The contestants in the Tigers’ fifth-starter derby — you know, the four or five guys with seven Major League starts combined — are about to go through that. They probably would be nearing it soon if Jacob Turner hadn’t gotten tendinitis. But now that a week without picking up a baseball is going to set Turner back, putting possibly the most talented pitcher of the bunch in Triple-A Toledo to start the year — the spotlight is on the rest of these guys now. And Leyland, Jeff Jones and the rest of the Tigers coaching staff are going to find out some things.

“I am seeing more things developing,” Leyland said. “There’s too many things: Who are they pitching against? What kind of team did the other team bring? When did they come in? We’re not even close to the finished product yet.”

Leyland didn’t announce the starter for Saturday’s spring training game by name Wednesday, saying only that “one of the kids” will get it. According to Thursday’s game notes, it’s Adam Wilk, with Andy Oliver and Drew Smyly pitching in relief. If you assume everybody stays on turn — and there’s no reason to think otherwise right now — then one would assume that either Andy Oliver, Drew Smyly or Adam Wilk will make that start against the Cardinals at Joker Marchant Stadium.

Assuming they don’t pitch again before the Tigers’ lone off-day of the spring five days later, they’ll get maybe three more starts before the Tigers break camp — maybe, because the last turn would come on the next-to-last day on the Tigers’ Grapefruit League schedule. The longer this competition goes, and the less clarity it gains, the more attention it could likely gain. If Andy Oliver continues to pitch like he has the last couple outings, that could take care of itself.

And here’s the kicker: The prospective Tigers starters can look at each other every day in camp, but they’re arguably competing against guys who aren’t even in this camp. The Tigers have scouts out and about this spring. They reportedly have been watching Nationals lefty John Lannan (Isn’t that an automatic, considering his last start was against the Tigers in Lakeland?), among others.

I said it going into camp, and I still believe the Tigers want to fill that fifth spot in-house if at all possible. They have to develop another young starter or two at some point, and if you can’t do it with this team, when can you? (four established starters, potentially obscene amount of run support) If you need a stellar fifth starter to win this division, you have bigger problems than a fifth starter. But I also think the Tigers will be willing to do it if it gets to that point.

It all adds up to an interesting stretch coming up for these guys. It was interesting for Casey Crosby, who entered a bases-loaded jam with three straight left-handed hitters coming up and gave up an infield single and back-to-back walks, then pitched two dominant innings from there.

The Tigers won’t be evaluating daily, but they’re be watching.

What we learned Wednesday: Between Casey Crosby and Matt Hoffman, the Tigers are not short on young lefty relief options if it gets to that point. Also, the term “general soreness” can mean a lot of different things.

What to remember: If the Tigers were to take a third lefty reliever, Crosby could be an intriguing option. He certainly has Leyland’s attention after his performance Wednesday. … It’s also worth remembering the first appearance for right-hander Bruce Rondon, who hit 100 mph on the stadium radar gun. He couldn’t command it, walking three batters (one of them ended with ball four sailing over the catcher and umpire all the way to the backstop on the fly), but the raw ability is definitely there.

Hey, it’s only Spring Training: As Leyland admitted afterwards, this was an ugly game, even by spring training standards. The damage included 18 combined walks, three each by three difference relievers in this game, three hit batters, and an out on a sharp ground ball that hit a Mets baserunner who was headed for second base safely. The two teams also combined for 22 runners left on base, 11 different pitchers, and a 3:43 game time.

The highlight play you saw: The game was on ESPN, so if you were watching, you saw Delmon Young throw out a runner at home plate to get Casey Crosby out of that third-inning mess. As Jim Leyland said, “It’s not back to a cannon yet, but it’s back. It’s pretty good, and it’s got a chance to get that good, because he’s getting much extension.”

Looking ahead: Justin Verlander will make his third start of the spring Thursday when the Baltimore Orioles come to Lakeland for a 1 p.m. ET game at Joker Marchant Stadium. Verlander has tossed six scoreless innings on four hits with no walks and five strikeouts so far this spring. Jose Valverde, Collin Balester, Joaquin Benoit and Tyler Stohr are also slated to pitch for Detroit.

To-do list for Thursday: Compare and contrast corner infield defenses in Baltimore and Detroit.


talking about lefty relievers…whatever became of Fu-Te Ni? still in the organization? and of Bobby Seay…did he officially retire?
it seems to me the Tigers just need a guy out of the 5th slot who can give them a decent 5 innings every time out. any more than that is a bonus…less will wear out the bullpen. their offense might be able to win some games even if the starter gets knocked out by the 4th inning. frequently using the pen for 5-6 innings when that happens will take it’s toll over the season. as of now, I have no idea which of the candidates can give them a consistent 5.

great question. i have given up looking. All i could find out is he was converted to a starter and ppl were saying he might be in the mix for the 5th spot in the rotation in 2012…..but they were saying that a year ago. Can’t find anything on him now.

Fu Te Ni played winter baseball. He was a starter for Caracas. 0-3 .4.00 era. But looked well.

Ni actually had some pretty impressive outings last year both starting and relieving. He had a good year statistically with a very low walk rate and good WHIP. 12 starts

so where is he this ST then?

Good questions. Where are those particular two pitchers? I would like to know myself since sometimes it feels more like we’re being sold a winner when I’m always…let’s see first. I know other teams may not stack up statisticially however, we need to play the games. I’m of the belief that some teams regardless of the talent have the chance to play to the level of thier competition. Therefore, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see what occured with the Indians last year pop up and happen again. Can we go 35-5? I sincerely doubt it. Can we go 22-18 in the first 40 games…much more likely. I don’t mind being proven wrong I just don’t like hype and choose to take a wait and see attitude while still enjoying the beautiful weather and the promise of a good baseball season.

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