March 29th, 2012

Leyland: “A lot of pins and needles right now”

With Andy Oliver’s option to Toledo Thursday, the Tigers are one step closer to finalizing their roster, with two guys left competing for the starting job, four or five for the bullpen job by manager Jim Leyland’s count, and a few guys left for the final roster spot.

Leyland didn’t say those decisions are imminent — in fact, it’s possible that at least one could go down to the final day of camp — but he didn’t rule out the possibility of a roster move over the couple days while the Tigers are on the road. That in itself says a lot; the team normally prefers to make roster moves while the team’s at home and it’s easier to meet with players in the clubhouse.

“Things could happen,” Leyland said. “We’re close. We’ve still got some things to work out. … The wait’s almost over.”

He later hinted that something could happen after Friday’s game against the Orioles. For what it’s worth, Duane Below — competing for the starting spot along with Drew Smyly — is starting that game.

“It’s a lot of pins and needles right now, to be honest with you,” Leyland said. “Hopefully we’ll be a little closer after tomorrow.”

Boesch: “Getting to Detroit as fast as I can”

Brennan Boesch came to Spring Training ready to pick up the work on his swing that he began back home in California.

When he got that down a couple weeks ago, he started working on his approach.

After three homers in four days, including a rather mammoth shot to right-center Thursday night off Nationals right-hander Mitch Atkins, Boesch sounded like somebody ready to go north.

“I like to think that I build as Spring Training goes to a point where you feel like you have the swing where you want to be,” he said after the game. “And from then on, you’re playing and competing, and the swing’s no longer something you’re concerned about. It’s about getting good pitches and having a good approach in game situations. That’s when it starts to get fun, when you can trust your swing and start competing out there.”

Safe to say, he’s there.

“Yeah, I think most of us are at this point,” Boesch said. “Maybe some more than others, but for me, it’s just about getting to Detroit as quick as I can.”

Boesch said he hit a curveball — not a bad pitch by his view, but one that stayed up long enough for him to drive it.

He’s obviously going to keep getting at-bats down the stretch, but it’s about putting the finishing touches and stay fresh.

“If you’re not ready, there’s probably something physically wrong with you or you’ve been held back with an injury or tightness,” he said. “These last at-bats are really just fine-tuning, getting your legs under you, playing seven, eight, nine innings. But hittingwise, I think most guys are probably pretty prepared to start the season at this point.”

Cabrera to return to action Friday

The Tigers decided Miguel Cabrera wasn’t quite ready for a return under the television lights Thursday night. But that should be the end of his wait.

With no full batting practice since taking a high-hopper to his right eye a week and a half ago, manager Jim Leyland and the team medical staff decided to give him one more day to catch up to game speed.

Instead, Cabrera will be back in the lineup Friday, when the Tigers visit the Orioles in Sarasota, Leyland said.

“I’ll play him the rest of the way out if he’s OK,” Leyland said.

Cabrera has missed nine games since the ball in question caused a non-displaced fracture to the orbital floor under his right eye. Doctors cleared him for activity Tuesday after a week of rest, and he began taking ground balls again Wednesday.

Thursday: No Cabrera, but Delmon at DH

Indeed, Miguel Cabrera is going to get at least another day.

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Brennan Boesch, RF
  3. Don Kelly, 3B
  4. Prince Fielder, 1B
  5. Delmon Young, DH
  6. Alex Avila, C
  7. Jhonny Peralta, SS
  8. Andy Dirks, LF
  9. Ryan Raburn, 2B

P: Max Scherzer

NATIONALS

  1. Steve Lombardozzi, 2B
  2. Xavier Paul, RF
  3. Chad Tracy, DH
  4. Jesus Flores, C
  5. Mark Teahen, LF
  6. Jarrett Hoffpauir, 3B
  7. Corey Brown, CF
  8. Tim Pahuta, 1B
  9. Josh Johnson, SS

P: Mitch Atkins

Tigers option Oliver to Toledo

The battle for the Tigers’ fifth starter job is now down to two pitchers. And neither the perceived favorite going in, nor the perceived favorite from last week, are left in the field.

The Tigers optioned Andy Oliver to Triple-A Toledo on Thursday after two subpar outings, including six earned runs in three-plus innings against the Astros on Tuesday, ruined what had the makings of a breakout spring for the power left-hander.

With Oliver out, the field for the fifth starter is now down to hard-charging prospect Drew Smyly and more experienced left-hander Duane Below. Smyly stayed in the race by pitching 4 2/3 innings with three runs allowed against the Cardinals on Wednesday in Jupiter. Below will get his final audition Friday against the Orioles in Sarasota.

Oliver held Grapefruit League opponents scoreless for his first nine innings this spring, including four innings of one-hit ball against the Mets March 12. His performances seemed to suggest that his mid-summer struggles last season at Triple-A Toledo were behind him, and he was able to command the ball consistently.

However, a five-walk outing against the Twins last Wednesday put that into serious question.

Tuesday’s outing, including seven hits and a 30-pitch second inning, raised too many doubts for the Tigers to break camp with him. His earned-run average, in turn, rose from 0.00 to 5.17 in just over a week.

Oliver will be on his third turn through Toledo. He ended the 2010 season there before spending most of last year in the Mud Hens rotation. He’ll join top pitching prospect Jacob Turner, who appeared to be the favorite for the job until early spring struggles and a bout with shoulder tendinitis put him too far behind.

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