Fifth starter, three candidates left
Jim Leyland is down to three candidates for his Tigers’ open rotation spot now that Adam Wilk has been optioned to Triple-A Toledo. He likes those three candidates, even though they’ve combined to make nine Major League starts between them, and none from the guy with the best statistics right now.
“There’s three guys left, basically,” Leyland said. “I think Jacob is going to be ready when he’s ready, which I don’t think is going to be in time probably to compete for this at this stage. So you’re basically talking about Oliver, Smyly and Below, or somebody outside [the organization].”
He isn’t downplaying any of them, and he isn’t eliminating the possibility that they could still choose none of the above and trade for somebody. But he seems happy with the way things have unfolded.
“I still believe the fifth starter is in this camp,” Leyland said Saturday morning, “but I also have always left myself open, because of my general manager. If he doesn’t think so, he makes the final decision. And if somebody would pop up that he felt made us better, whether he would or would not make a pitch for him, I can’t really answer that. That’s why I’ve always left that little tiny margin of decision open [for a trade]. …
“I’m not trying to create a major story here that the Tigers might go outside. Please don’t put headlines like that, because I don’t think that’s going to happen. I’m just saying I’m leaving that little thin line there open, because I don’t know what my general manager [might decide]. My general manager has a tendency to surprise you. When they call you up and tell you they signed Prince Fielder, that’s a pretty big surprise.”
The reports on how little that line is conflict a little. CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman reported a couple days ago that the Tigers are still showing interest in John Lannan, but Danny Knobler suggested Saturday that the Tigers aren’t fond of Lannan and will indeed stay in-house for their fifth starter.
It’s getting to a time of year when every spring training start seems crucial, and Duane Below’s upcoming outing against the Yankees would seem bigger than most. Leyland is trying to downplay the expectations, but he isn’t denying it’s a nice test.
If it wasn’t a big deal, he wouldn’t be going to Tampa to watch the game. He’d be staying back in Lakeland to monitor Justin Verlander.
“We’re going to make this judgment not based on somebody’s first three outings, not based on somebody’s fourth outing,” Leyland said. “We’re going to base it on what we see as professional people that are supposed to be pretty good at what we do and say, ‘OK, what all of a sudden touched you or you or you, that says this is my guy?’
“It’s only natural that some people saw Oliver walk five guys the other day and said, ‘Oh, he’s out. He’s out of the competition.’ It’s totally false. Don’t fall for that.”
What we learned today: Max Scherzer can rack up strikeouts without a high pitch count. If he can have outings like this in the regular season, racking up eight strikeouts over seven innings in just 88 pitches, he could be really, really effective.
What to remember: Scherzer’s two-seam fastball isn’t necessarily a swing-and-miss pitch, despite the strikeout totals today. He had a fair number of strikeouts on offspeed pitches, including a changeup that had Robinson Cano fooled for a fourth-inning K during a stretch of four strikeouts in six batters. Ideally, Scherzer’s two-seamer is a quick-out pitch.
Hey, it’s only spring training: Raul Ibanez was 1-for-36 for the Yankees this spring before Scherzer left a fastball up to him. He’s now 2-for-37 with a two-run homer. It was his first base hit in two weeks. We’re guessing he won’t go that long between hits once the regular season rolls around.
The highlight play you missed: Take your pick of Don Kelly plays. He made a sliding catch in front of the Yankees dugout on a Mark Teixeira foul ball in the fifth, then made a diving stop and throw from the third-base line to rob Ramiro Pena an inning later.
Up next: Another round of split-squad games for the Tigers, but this set has two very different storylines. While Justin Verlander tries to continue rounding into regular-season shape in Lakeland when he faces the Phillies, Duane Below will be trying to help his case for the rotation spot in Tampa by staring down the Yankees lineup. Both games start at 1:05pm. The Tigers-Yankees tilt will be on radio in Detroit at 97.1 FM and online at MLB Gameday Audio.
To-do list for Sunday: Sort out what Below can do with a vaunted Yankees lineup, even if it is spring training. I will be at that game.