So is anyone winning the 5th starter race?

Remember way back 24 hours ago when Jim Leyland was talking about how big of a day Friday was going to be for the Tigers?

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

After today’s outing Duane Below, it doesn’t feel much closer to a resolution on the fifth starter. The only way it feels closer is that the outings might be done — unless the decision goes to the final day, in which case Drew Smyly might be able to pitch Monday against the Blue Jays.

Regardless, with just a few days left, there’s no clearer sense of a favorite.

Of all the fifth starter candidates going into camp, Below seemed the least likely to battle control problems. He’s the guy with the combination of experience and command, with enough velocity blended in.

That’s what made his outing Friday all the more perplexing. If he had gotten hit around, the Tigers might have been able to live with that. Maybe if those walks had been lengthy battles with several foul balls, or if they had been spread out over the various innings, it would feel different. But in walking four Orioles in the second inning, all on five pitches, he showed a struggle trying to correct his mechanics in the middle of an inning. Instead of going to offspeed pitches to try to correct his fastball command, he kept firing fastballs throughout the inning, and they kept sailing high and outside to right-handed hitters.

So where does this leave the Tigers? It certainly leaves them without a favorite. Realistically, they’re left with nobody having stepped up to grab the spot. In the end, you can make a case that the tiebreaker might be as much philosophical as anything.

Statistically, Smyly was more effective, both in damage and command. Nobody, not even those who totally bought into Smyly as a realistic candidate, could’ve expected that out of this group. He arguably had the best stuff of them all, a fastball up to 94 mph to go with at least three offspeed pitches.

But before he’s anointed the deserving winner, ponder this question: If you commit to him to open the season, do you have to commit to him for the year (unless things go completely sideways)? If you’re going to open the season with a “placeholder” in the fifth spot until you can get more clarity, is that something Smyly can handle, or would he risk suffering some of the same problems Oliver has encountered the last couple years? Would Below, by virtue by his experience and starter/relief versatility, be better suited since he could jump to the bullpen to make way for somebody else?

Just throwing some thoughts out there, thoughts that completely my own.

One thing that might make you feel a little better about how all this unfolded is the fact that the Tigers won’t need a fifth starter until April 14.

7 Comments

I’d just simplify things and go with Below to start the season. Smyly, Turner, and even Oliver are still in Toledo if needed. It just seems like the safe choice right now. That said, I can’t wait to see what Smyly can do in Detroit, but there’s really no great rush for that. I certainly have no problem with Drew going north if that’s what they decide.

Even if Smyly wins the pitching derby, having Below begin the season would buy time for Smyly to sharpen his skills in Toledo. Smyly can be called-up to Detroit around the middle of May. It is silly to have him sit around waiting for a start and watching raindrops fall in early spring until the Tigers’ schedule becomes busy.

That’s an interesting idea, something other teams have done the past five years or so. A lot of times, it’s meant to put off arbitration and free agency another year, though I don’t think that’s a concern in the Tigers’ case. The schedule point is legit; if the Tigers took advantage of all their off-days, they could get through April with as few as three starts from their fifth starter, though I don’t think they would want to do that at the expense of an extra day for their top four.

I really only thought a month ago that Below or Turner were likely to start the season with Smyly and Oliver having to make a statement at Toledo to justify a mid season move to the bigs. I also thought a trade was going to be made, particularly after Turner had his setback and Oliver became favourite. Dan has best summed up Oliver’s main problem being himself.
I understand the logic that you will never have a better time to blood young talent but the counter argument is with the lineup we have, why take the risk making them jump a few steps and increase the risk of falling flat on their face. Turner and Smyly seemed to be capable of making the jump but 10 or so spring innings would need to be near flawless to make such a big call with the youngsters.
Interesting going over Porcello’s 2009 spring training stats where his 2.30 ERA came from 15.2 IP and a 1.40 WHIP and .279 avge. His MLB re
gular season career stats are a very similar 1.38 WHIP and .283 avge, however his 4.54 ERA more reflects these relatively high numbers. You never see the whites of Rick’s eyes and is reflected in his 38-30 record.

The Phillies have signed infielder Andres Blanco, which would appear to put an end to the unlikely scenario of acquiring Inge.

this from an offseason interview done by milb.com:
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MiLB.com: You spent some time on the DL early in the season. How did your arm feel after 126 innings this past year? Is it true that you have two screws in your elbow remaining from your elbow surgery?
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Smyly: Yeah, I still have the screws — they’re there forever. It was definitely an adjustment this season. I’d never thrown that regularly, every five days with a bullpen [session] in between. At first I was a little like, “It’s my turn to pitch again already?” and I had some elbow tendinitis. But as I settled in and got used to things, I was ready to go.
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Is this a guy the organization should be pushing quickly to MLB?

Below has mentioned after each of his last 2 starts that he needs to slow the game down…not sure if he means that he’s rushing his delivery, needs to take more time between pitches, throw more offspeed pitches, or something else.
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i’ve heard high performing athletes say that the game seems slower when they’re doing well. i suppose the game might seem too fast for an athlete who is struggling. maybe that’s what Below is sensing.

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