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Nesbitt, Krol make Opening Day roster, final spot TBD

The Tigers’ Opening Day roster is one step shy of being set. Their bullpen appears to be set for now.

With Friday’s moves to option left-handers Kyle Ryan and Blaine Hardy to Triple-A Toledo, and assign non-roster infielder Josh Wilson to minor-league camp, Detroit put rookie right-hander Angel Nesbitt and young lefty Ian Krol on the squad heading north for next Monday’s season opener. That didn’t necessarily determine that Hardy and Ryan will open the season as Mud Hens.

The moves bring the Tigers’ camp roster to 26 players, including injured Justin Verlander and Bruce Rondon. Both will be placed on the 15-day disabled list, which leaves 24 active players still in camp. Who fills the last spot depends on Verlander’s work in the coming days.

Verlander is tentatively on track to start next Sunday at Cleveland, but that depends on how he progresses with his right triceps strain. He’s scheduled to stay in Florida and throw off a mound Saturday or Sunday, then face hitters on Tuesday.

If Verlander falls off that timetable, or feels lingering soreness, the Tigers will need a starting pitcher to take his place. That would most likely be left-hander Kyle Lobstein, who has been identified as the “sixth starter” and would have a favorable matchup against an Indians lineup loaded with left-handed hitters.

If Verlander progresses as hoped, the Tigers are expected to still place him on the DL and use the spot on an extra reliever for a few days. Since the DL move can be backdated to March 28, the day after Verlander left his start against the Blue Jays, he’d still be eligible to come off the DL on April 12.

Whichever way they decide, they have to do it when they place Verlander on the DL. By rule, a player sent down out of camp must have 10 days in the minors from the start of the season before he can be called up, unless he’s replacing a player who’s going on the DL. By that rule, the Tigers could even recall Hardy or Ryan to fill Verlander’s spot if they want.

The Tigers aren’t expected to make their decision until Sunday at the earliest. Dombrowski said they could technically wait as late as Tuesday to make a move and still backdate the move to have Verlander eligible to return for his tentatively scheduled start.

Tigers to place Verlander, Rondon on 15-day DL

Justin Verlander is heading to the disabled list for the first time in his career. Bruce Rondon will open the season to the DL for a second consecutive year.

Tigers manager Brad Ausmus announced the moves Thursday morning. Verlander will be placed on the 15-day DL with a right triceps strain. The move will be backdated to March 28, the day after he left his start against the Blue Jays in Dunedin.

By backdating the move, the Tigers will be able to activate Verlander from the DL next Sunday, the first day the Tigers need a fifth starter.

“Essentially, he doesn’t miss a start,” Ausmus said.

Whether he’s able to make that start remains to be seen. The Tigers are optimistic Verlander will be able to throw a side session this weekend in Lakeland.

“The arm will let us know,” Ausmus said.

Verlander’s arm has been tricky to judge ever since he left the March 27 outing. The injury was initially called a triceps cramp, and team officials said they expected him to make his final Spring Training start.

That would have been today. While Verlander threw on flat ground for a second consecutive day, he has not yet gotten back on a mound.

“It’s still kind of a day-to-day thing,” Ausmus said.

Verlander was originally slated to start the second game of the regular season next Wednesday against the Twins. Anibal Sanchez will move up a day to make that start. Shane Greene, who was scheduled to make his Tigers debut April 11 in Cleveland, will move up to start the opening series finale against Minnesota next Thursday.

Rondon heads to the DL one day after being scratched from a scheduled relief outing with a sore right shoulder. An MRI exam taken Wednesday afternoon showed tendinitis in Rondon’s biceps.

While the Tigers can get through their rotation for the first six games without Verlander, thanks to next Tuesday’s off-day, putting together a bullpen without Rondon is another task. His healthy return was seen as a huge factor in the Tigers bullpen after he missed all of last season following Tommy John surgery.

Rondon diagnosed with right shoulder tendinitis

Tigers reliever Bruce Rondon is considered day-to-day after an MRI exam showed tendinitis in his right shoulder, pitching coach Jeff Jones said Thursday morning.

The diagnosis came after Rondon was scratched from a scheduled relief appearance Wednesday against the Astros. Rondon, who struck out the side in order Tuesday, was scheduled to pitch a second straight game, one of the final hurdles towards being ready for Opening Day, but woke up with a sore shoulder.

A bout of tendinitis would make an Opening Day return seem difficult if not impossible. Still, considering the injuries the hard-throwing right-hander has had to overcome the last year and a half, it’s arguably good news compared to what the injury could have been.

The shoulder injury is not believed to be related to the sore neck that sidelined Rondon for a few days last week. It’s also not related to the elbow injury that led to season-ending Tommy John surgery about a year ago at this point.

If Rondon isn’t ready for Opening Day, his absence opens up a relief spot for somebody else. If manager Brad Ausmus wants a right-hander who can fill the Rondon type of situational role, rookie Angel Nesbitt is a likely candidate, having impressed with a mid- to upper-90s fastball and slider.

On the other hand, Ausmus hasn’t ruled out the idea of carrying three left-handed relievers, which would allow him to keep both hard-throwing southpaw Ian Krol and converted starter Kyle Ryan.

What Rondon’s shoulder means for bullpen

Four or five days ago, Bruce Rondon had to prove more than simply his health. He had to prove his effectiveness, which briefly looked like it was in question.

He seemed to show the latter when he struck out the side Tuesday night. Now his health is in question again. And he might be running out of time to prove it before Opening Day.

“If he can’t pitch, obviously it’s a lot tougher to be on the team,” Brad Ausmus said of Rondon’s sore shoulder. “In that sense, it’s a big concern.”

It’s not related to the elbow injury that led to Tommy John surgery a year ago. Nor is it believed to be related to his sore neck. But for short-term roster matters, it’s a problem.

Rondon needs to show he can pitch back-to-back games in order to pitch in the big leagues. Wednesday was supposed to be his final hurdle toward that, having struck out the side in order Tuesday. Rondon woke up with soreness in his shoulder, Ausmus said, but made the trip to Kissimmee anyway, hoping the soreness would subside once he loosened up.

It didn’t. Now, the Tigers have to think about how the bullpen best lines up without Rondon, whose healthy return ranks among the biggest keys to the Tigers bullpen for the season.

Detroit could go a few different directions to fill the spot. This could be their chance to carry an extra long reliever to cover innings during a week in which the chance of rain increases by the day. Or, the Tigers could try to find someone who best fills Rondon’s previously expected role.

It’s probably fitting, then, that shortly after the Tigers likely get an update on Rondon, Angel Nesbitt will pitch the first inning against the Yankees. He doesn’t have the pure power of Rondon, though he comes close at times. If there’s a Rondon-type replacement in the Tigers bullpen, though, he’s the guy.

If the Tigers look for long relief, it could become the opening for Ausmus to carry three lefties in his bullpen. Kyle Ryan had a better outing than his three-run first inning would suggest, and Tom Gorzelanny retired five batters without much trouble in his first Major League work in two weeks.

Still, replacing what Rondon means to this bullpen is difficult if not impossible among the current crew. He was a major reason behind the potential for improvement among a group of relievers that remains largely the same from last season. In that sense, having a sore shoulder and nothing worse would be a relief in Tigers circles.

Rondon scratched from outing with sore shoulder

The biggest news out of the Tigers’ bullpen parade Wednesday took place without a pitch being thrown. Bruce Rondon was supposed to throw, pitching in back-to-back games, until he woke up with a sore shoulder that didn’t go away when he tried to stretch out during pregame warm-ups at Osceola County Stadium. He ended up back in Lakeland for treatment.

It’s different than the elbow issue that cost him last season with Tommy John surgery a year ago, and it’s not believed to be related to the sore neck that sidelined him last weekend. It’s not severe enough at this point for team officials to order an exam.

With camp breaking in a few days, however, it’s a new version of an age-old problem: It’s tough to make the team from the training room.

“If he can’t pitch, obviously it’s a lot tougher to be on the team,” Ausmus said. “In that sense, it’s a big concern.”

Ausmus has said multiple times over the last couple days that he needs Rondon to prove he can pitch in consecutive games if he’s going to make the big-league club. Between the sore neck and now the shoulder, he has pitched once in the last five days at a time when most pitchers are hitting regular-season form.

“He needs to pitch back-to-back before we can assume that that he’s OK to pitch on a regular basis at the Major League level,” Ausmus repeated after Wednesday’s 3-2 loss to the Astros.

The Tigers should know more about his chances Thursday morning. If he can’t, that leaves at least two open spots to decide before camp breaks. Ausmus will have no problem getting a look at his candidates.

Verlander throwing, but next outing remains in question

Justin Verlander resumed throwing on Wednesday at Joker Marchant Stadium, but his scheduled regular-season debut next Wednesday in Detroit remains in serious question.

“It’s a little bit of a stretch right now,” manager Brad Ausmus said of his chances, “but I wouldn’t wave it off.”

Verlander threw from 60 feet at about 60 percent strength Wednesday morning, Ausmus said. There was still some lingering soreness in his right triceps, but he felt improvement.

“He felt it a little bit,” Ausmus said, “but definitely felt better.”

He could throw again on Thursday, but he will not pitch in a minor-league game Friday. The Tigers want him to pitch once more in Spring Training before setting his regular-season schedule, so he’d have to pitch this weekend and then come back on short rest to pitch Wednesday. Since his arm was stretched out to around 80 pitches a week and a half ago, he might not have to stretch out again this spring.

If Verlander doesn’t start next Wednesday, the second game of the regular season, Anibal Sanchez will start that game. Sanchez will start the Tigers’ home Spring Training finale Friday against the Rays, so he can pitch Wednesday on regular rest.

Verlander has never been on the disabled list, but depending on how long it takes to get rid of the soreness, Ausmus admits it’s a possibility. The Tigers could backdate a DL stint and have him eligible to pitch on Sunday, April 12, the day the Tigers would need a fifth starter. They could use his spot on an extra reliever, which might come in handy given an increasing chance of rain in the forecast for Detroit next week.

Wednesday’s lineup: Tigers at Astros

Day off for Miguel Cabrera, Jose Iglesias and Alex Avila. Another day of utility work for Andrew Romine and Hernan Perez.

Also, a reminder that this is a bullpen day. Kyle Ryan gets the start, and Tom Gorzelanny will pitch a few innings, but today is also a key hurdle for Bruce Rondon. If he can pitch a second consecutive day effectively, his path to the Opening Day roster looks a lot clearer.

TIGERS

  1. Rajai Davis, LF
  2. Ian Kinsler, 2B
  3. Victor Martinez, DH
  4. J.D. Martinez, RF
  5. Nick Castellanos, 3B
  6. James McCann, C
  7. Hernan Perez, 1B
  8. Andrew Romine, SS
  9. Anthony Gose, CF

P: Kyle Ryan, Tom Gorzelanny, Bruce Rondon, Joe Nathan, Blaine Hardy

Price: Nothing new on contract talks, but no deadline

Much like every other time we’ve asked, there’s nothing new on David Price and his contract status after he made his final start of the spring Tuesday. That’s good and bad news from the Tigers’ standpoint. The latter is obvious, that he remains on track for free agency at season’s end. The flip side, for what it’s worth, is that the window isn’t closing for talks. Price said Tuesday he remains open to talks during the season.

He hasn’t let it become a distraction for him this spring, he said, and he doesn’t expect it to be a distraction once the season starts.

“I left it open to talks throughout the year,” he said. “There’s no rush for them.”

Part of the reason for that seems to be the relative simplicity. The way Price described it when asked if talks could linger sounds very much like there’s a certain point in mind.

“It wouldn’t be something that would linger on,” Price said. “These guys, they know what they want to do, and so do I. So if we get to that point, then I think once it gets going, it would go quickly. If it doesn’t happen, then it just wouldn’t happen. It’s not something that we’d revisit every two weeks. I’m sure the Tigers would rather it be either we can get it done or we can’t and leave it alone. We’ll see how everything starts shaking out.”

Asked if recent contracts have set a range for him, he said, “I guess you could say that, but that’s not my thought behind it.”

Tuesday’s lineups: Tigers vs. Pirates

  Aside from right field, where J.D. Martinez is off, this looks like the Opening Day lineup, including the Opening Day starter.

TIGERS

  1. Anthony Gose, CF
  2. Ian Kinsler, 2B
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B
  4. Victor Martinez, DH
  5. Yoenis Cespedes, LF
  6. Alex Avila, C
  7. Nick Castellanos, 3B
  8. Jose Iglesias, SS
  9. Rajai Davis, RF

P: David Price, Joakim Soria, Ian Krol, Blaine Hardy, Bruce Rondon

PIRATES

  1. Jordy Mercer, SS
  2. Neil Walker, 2B
  3. Andrew McCutchen, CF
  4. Corey Hart, 1B
  5. Jung Ho Kang, 3B
  6. Francisco Cervelli, C
  7. Sean Rodriguez, RF
  8. Mel Rojas Jr., LF
  9. Vance Worley, P

P: Vance Worley

Monday’s lineups: Tigers vs. Braves

This looks a lot like the lineup to expect next Monday, including Yoenis Cespedes batting behind J.D. Martinez.

Bruce Rondon is on the pitching list for the game, but Brad Ausmus said he wasn’t sure if he’d be pitching. Joe Nathan, who was off the last few days dealing with a cut thumb, is definitely pitching.

TIGERS

  1. Anthony Gose, CF
  2. Ian Kinsler, 2B
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B
  4. Victor Martinez, DH
  5. J.D. Martinez, RF
  6. Yoenis Cespedes, LF
  7. Alex Avila, C
  8. Nick Castellanos, 3B
  9. Jose Iglesias, SS

P: Alfredo Simon, Angel Nesbitt, Joe Nathan, Bruce Rondon?

BRAVES

  1. Todd Cunningham, CF
  2. Jace Peterson, 2B
  3. Nick Markakis, DH
  4. Freddie Freeman, 1B
  5. Jonny Gomes, LF
  6. Kelly Johnson, RF
  7. Chris Johnson, 3B
  8. Christian Bethancourt, C
  9. Andrelton Simmons, SS

P: Mike Foltynewicz

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