March 26th, 2013

Does this week’s pitching reveal next week’s rotation order?

Long answer short: Not sure, but there are some clues.

Jim Leyland said Tuesday he still wasn’t ready to reveal his rotation order after Justin Verlander’s Opening Day assignment, even after announcing Rick Porcello will complete the rotation. This is now getting into bizarre territory; usually when the Tigers open a season on the road, Leyland announces his starter for the home opener shortly after his Opening Day starter, if not at the same time. At this point, we still don’t know who that might be. Whether it has anything to do with the Twins having not announced their starters yet is anyone’s guess.

What we have right now, though, is a pitching order for the final games of Grapefruit League play. Justin Verlander will get his final spring tuneup on Wednesday, then Anibal Sanchez on Thursday, then Max Scherzer on Friday, then Doug Fister on Saturday. Verlander is starting on an extra day of rest Wednesday so that he can be on turn for Monday on his regular four days’ rest.

It’s possible the Tigers could slot Sanchez, Scherzer and Fister in order from there and have them all pitching on an extra day’s rest. It’s also possible Scherzer and Fister could close out the series in Minnesota on four days’ rest each, though it seems unlikely they’d make Sanchez wait more than a week before his first regular-season start. All we can gather for sure is that there’s no way Fister could go from wrapping up his spring training on Saturday to starting off his regular season on Wednesday, especially the way he has pitched.

The widespread belief in recent weeks has been that Scherzer would start the home opener as a reward for last season. However, he has been very good pitching at Target Field the last couple years (3-0 in 3 starts, 4 runs, 14 hits, 19 1/3 innings, 23 strikeouts). Now, he would be on six days’ rest going into the home opener, two more days than normal. Fister doesn’t have that same history in Minnesota, though he has been good at Comerica Park since becoming a Tiger.

To get back to the original question: You can read quite a bit into this week’s order and come up with a good guess at the rotation. I wouldn’t be ready to swear to that quite yet, though.

Kelly will not exercise opt-out clause

The much-chronicled (my bad, guys) opt-out clause in Don Kelly’s minor-league contract will not be exercised. It could’ve come into play today and forced the Tigers into a decision, but Kelly said after Tuesday’s 4-for-4 performance that he will not use it.

Instead, he said he has an informal agreement with the Tigers front office. If Kelly doesn’t make the Opening Day roster, team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski will try to find Kelly another team with a big-league job for him. If not, Kelly will accept an assignment to Triple-A Toledo.

Why not test the open market? One reason Kelly cited was the familiarity with the organization. Another was the situation in Toledo, both the facilities and the proximity to his home just outside Pittsburgh.

By this point, the contract issue was a little much for Kelly.

“This is all contractual stuff,” he said. “I’m just trying to go out and get hits.”

Porcello rotation move takes him off rumor mill

Rick Porcello is off the rumor mill and back in the Tigers rotation. The way he pitched this spring, it was the easiest choice for the Tigers to make.

After all the reported trade discussions, all the clusters of scouts at his spring outings, and all the questions afterwards, Porcello will begin the season back in the same place he has started the last four seasons. Manager Jim Leyland made it official on Tuesday, putting Porcello in the rotation and slotting second-year left-hander Drew Smyly in the bullpen.

The announcement, at least for now, quiets three months of speculation on Porcello’s potential departure, which once seemed inevitable after Detroit re-signed Anibal Sanchez. It could be rekindled soon enough this season, depending on the Detroit’s needs, but the Tigers are going to find out whether Porcello can translate some of the best pitching this spring into the regular season.

“The general manager gives you the players, the manager has something to say, the coaches have something to say, but inevitably, at some point it’s up to the player,” Leyland said Tuesday. “That’s just the way it is. Production is important up here, and it’s up to the players when they get their opportunity to produce.”

Porcello was not available for comment before the Tigers game against the Braves Tuesday afternoon.

Essentially, the competition between Porcello and Smyly left the Tigers with six very good starters. Given the rate of injuries among Major League pitchers, they’d rather have one starting candidate too many than one too few.

Porcello reported to camp seemingly on borrowed time given the roster makeup. However, he brought a more consistent delivery and a surprisingly good breaking ball with him, the product of offseason work with pitching coach Jeff Jones.

Once Porcello ditched the slider for the curveball as his breaking ball of choice, he seemed more comfortable, and he gained confidence with each outing.

A Juan Francisco three-run home run Feb. 27 was the only damage Porcello allowed over his first four starts before the Blue Jays and Marlins hit him a bit over his final two outings. More impressive than the stinginess in scoring, however, was the walk-to-strikeout.

Porcello did not walk a batter in 24 innings of Grapefruit League. His only two walks came in a Class A start March 20 on the back fields at Tigertown. With 21 strikeouts, however, he was doing far better than pitching to contact, a difference that came largely on a better mix of curveballs and fastballs to go with his sinker.

All the while, Porcello sidestepped questions about his future and focused on his own pitching, the lone factor he could control.

“I think he’s shown a lot of character in the way he handled the rumors, the way he approached his job this spring,” Leyland said. “I think he’s a very good Major League pitcher that’s getting better.”

He was good enough this spring that even his competitor acknowledged he would have been tough to keep off the squad.

“I knew we were both pitching great,” Smyly said. “They know what they have in Rick. He’s been starting for them for four years. He deserves it. I still see myself as a Major League starter. I want to be a starter. But it just shows how much talent we have on this team. It’s an honor for me to make it.”

Smyly started off his spring with three consecutive scoreless starts, covering nine innings of three-hit ball. He gave up seven runs over 8 2/3 innings in his next two starts, but settled down for five innings of one-run ball with five strikeouts against the Nationals on Sunday.

The Tigers could have taken that success and said he needs to stick as a starter and work at Triple-A Toledo as an insurance policy. In the end, a few factors argued towards keeping him in Detroit.

“One, we felt like he’s one of our 12 best pitchers,” Leyland said. “Two, we felt like the fact that he’s built up to 100 pitches this spring, with the weather conditions and everything where you might have delays and you could have to take a starter out, he can still come in and pitch four or five innings and do that for a period of time.”

That could change later in the season, Leyland said, if Smyly isn’t getting enough innings to stay fresh. For now, however, he’ll serve a similar role to the bullpen spot he held last postseason, covering long relief but also potentially finding himself in specialized opportunities. Depending on the makeup of the rest of the bullpen, he could be the second left-hander behind Phil Coke.

“It’s an honor to make the team. Porcello, he deserves it,” Smyly said. “All along, I just wanted to be on the team. I wanted to help this team win. Just to know that I’ll be here, I’m really excited about it.”

Porcello to rotation, Smyly to bullpen, Tuiasosopo on team

Take Rick Porcello off the trade market, at least for now. The right-hander will open the season in the Tigers rotation, manager Jim Leyland announced Tuesday. Drew Smyly, who was battling for the spot previously held by Porcello, will open in the bullpen as a long reliever, with maybe some other relief work mixed in.

Matt Tuiasosopo, meanwhile, will be on the Opening Day roster barring an unforeseen move at the end of camp. He has won the right-handed hitting left fielder job to get starts against some lefties.

Still to be decided are one or two bullpen spots, plus the last positional spot on the bench. Leyland said he hopes to resolve those by Thursday, though it’s no guarantee.

Tuesday: Tigers vs. Braves

Today is the day Shawn Hill gets his last start in camp. Presumably, there could be a roster move coming on him afterwards, either later today or tomorrow. Interestingly, Don Kelly gets the start in left field on the day he can apparently exercise his opt-out clause.

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Torii Hunter, RF
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B
  4. Prince Fielder, 1B
  5. Victor Martinez, DH
  6. Don Kelly, LF
  7. Jhonny Peralta, SS
  8. Brayan Pena, C
  9. Ramon Santiago, 2B

P: Shawn Hill

BRAVES

  1. Andrelton Simmons, SS
  2. Jason Heyward, DH
  3. Justin Upton, LF
  4. Freddie Freeman, 1B
  5. B.J. Upton, CF
  6. Dan Uggla, 2B
  7. Juan Francisco, 3B
  8. Reed Johnson, RF
  9. Gerald Laird, C

P: Tim Hudson

Garcia to DL; Putkonen, Alvarez Davis, Russo sent out

The latest batch of roster cuts this morning brought the Tigers down to 30 players, but none were particularly surprising.

  • Avisail Garcia will begin the season on the 15-day disabled list as expected with a right heel contusion. The move was backdated to March 22, the maximum allowed. He can be activated as soon as April 6, the first Saturday of the season.
  • Luke Putkonen was optioned to Triple-A Toledo, where he’ll reprise his relief role in hopes of getting an in-season call-up. The 26-year-old fastballer allowed six runs on 14 hits in 13 2/3 innings this spring, walking five batters, hitting three others and striking out 14.
  • Lefty Jose Alvarez was assigned to minor-league camp. He’ll begin the season in the rotation at Toledo after allowed three earned runs on 13 hits over 9 2/3 innings with a walk and six strikeouts.
  • Catcher Brad Davis was also assigned to minor-league camp. He’ll share playing time with Bryan Holaday behind the plate for the Mud Hens.
  • Utilityman Kevin Russo also was assigned to minor-league camp. He quietly had a pretty good camp, batting .308 (12-for-39) with four doubles, two homers and five RBIs. That 2-to-15 strikeout-to-walk could’ve been better, obviously.

No answer yet on Don Kelly. He has an opt-out clause he can exercise any day now, but he doesn’t sound all that nervous about it, and he doesn’t sound like he’s about to press the team for an answer. We’ll see what happens.

As for Shawn Hill, he makes the start today, but presumably will be sent out soon after that to get to Toledo and work in the rotation there. He’ll be an insurance starter; the question is whether he’ll be a sixth, seventh or eighth starter (depending on whether the Tigers hold onto Porcello).

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