Sunday: Expect busy stretch run
Jim Leyland likes to say that you can tell a little about a player and how he’ll react in the big leagues by how he reacts late in Spring Training when the clubhouse gets less crowded and the roster whittles down to a few final decisions. He saw that last year by how their fifth starter candidates reacted in a race that essentially became a matter of attrition.
Leyland also likes to say that a long Spring Training becomes a short Spring Training in a hurry. And make no mistake, this already feels like a long Spring Training. We’re five weeks in already, and there are still 12-13 days left before the Tigers head north.
Now Leyland is sending out the signs that this long Spring Training is about to become short, and it’s about to be busy.
As much as he has enjoyed watching Nick Castellanos and Tyler Collins, he has to sort out his outfield mix while also stretching out his regulars to the point that they’re ready to go nine innings on Opening Day. The latter tends to happen in those final 10 days. The time when the Tigers send out their prospects — yes, even Castellanos to Toledo — is coming shortly.
Leyland has to figure out who his right-handed hitting extra outfielder is going to be, and how that decision impacts the last positional spot (left-handed or right-handed hitter, utilityman or outfielder). He has to decide if one speedy extra outfielder is enough (it probably is).
At the same time, Leyland has to piece together his pitching staff — not just how he’ll handle the ninth inning, not just whether Rick Porcello or Drew Smyly will be in the rotation, but how those decisions impact the rest of the pitching staff. If the Tigers go with a closer by committee, they have to decide whether they have to carry an extra situational reliever or middle man, and whether he can have a long reliever who can fit another role (such as a second lefty).
All the while, Dave Dombrowski has to check the market — not just the potential end-of-spring “big trade”, but the annual glut of out-of-option players and non-roster invites who don’t make their teams. He’s also probably going to have to see if there’s a realistic trade idea with the Rays to keep Rule 5 pick Kyle Lobstein in the organization and send him to the minors. Think what Arizona did to acquire full rights to James Skelton a few years ago by sending Brooks Brown to Detroit. Dombrowski could feasibly try to do the same with Jeff Kobernus, but the way he has played this spring, that would appear tougher.
Keep that Rule 5 status for Kobernus in mind as the positional roster decisions play out. Detroit can option Quintin Berry to Toledo, as it can with Danny Worth. It cannot do the same with Kobernus without offering him back to Washington. All things being equal, Kobernus’ status is a potential tiebreaker. Keep everybody for now and see how Kobernus handles a reserve role with limited at-bats, or lose Kobernus and see how everything fits.
- Leyland rarely expresses much negative when a spring game becomes a mess like Sunday’s 12-10 loss did, but he was clearly not happy with his relievers. Thing is, the relievers who gave up the damage — Phil Coke, Al Alburquerque and Darin Downs — were all on the team for significant stretches last year. “Nobody’s getting excited,” Leyland said, “but I saw some things today that I did not like. And I’m not talking about the starter. When guys came out of the bullpen today, I saw some things that I didn’t like too well.”
- Leyland had some of his strongest praise yet for Avisail Garcia, whose bruised heel is likely to cost him any lingering chance to make this team out of camp. “I think he was or is definitely in the mix,” Leyland said. “But it goes back to what we talked about before — what’s going to be the best for him, or what’s going to be the best for the club? I don’t know whether he’s going to be on the club, but I’m crazy about him. He’s got it all. His last hurdle is, like everybody else is normally, how much do you hit? I mean, there’s no question he can play defense, run, do all that stuff in the big leagues right now. I’m thrilled about him. I really like him a lot. … He’s one of the guys I just enjoy watching him play. If I was a fan, I’d enjoy watching him play.”