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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

Verlander won’t be pitching Thursday (updated)

Justin Verlander won’t be pitching on Thursday as the Tigers had hoped, and when he pitches again is anyone’s guess.

“Especially [since] I didn’t throw today, I don’t think it’s very feasible that I can go out and pitch Thursday,” Verlander said Monday morning. “I think it’s a day-by-day thing.”

Verlander, who left his start last Friday after the third inning with what was termed as a cramp in his right triceps, threw on Sunday. He had some soreness again Monday, which scuttled any thought of throwing in the morning. That, in turn, scuttled any plans for Thursday.

“Once the soreness gets out of there, I’ve got to throw without soreness and get back into my throwing routine,” Verlander said. “These are all things we’ll have to address as it goes along.”

He continues to say he’s not altogether worried. Still, the soreness has lingered along enough to where it’s hard to classify it as a cramp anymore. At the least, it’s a mild strain.

“I really feel like today’s like the crest of the wave,” he said. “It’s gotten a little bit better every day and I feel like today the soreness is just kind of in one spot. It should start to work itself out pretty quickly.”

Shane Greene is now scheduled to start for the Tigers on Thursday against the Yankees, facing his former team at Joker Marchant Stadium. Wednesday is listed on Tigers game notes as TBA, but it would appear likely to be a bullpen day, allowing a slew of relievers to get in work.

Verlander is scheduled to pitch the second game of the regular season against the Twins at Comerica Park. If he doesn’t pitch by Friday of this week, then he’ll probably have to be pushed back from that as well. Verlander did not want to set Friday as a deadline, given that he had stretched out his pitch count pretty well before last Friday. He also was cautious to call his situation frustrating, given the way he was throwing Friday before the injury.

“I’m frustrated that I can’t get out there and throw,” he said, “and yeah, I want to, especially with my personality. But a lot of the reason I’m optimistic — and I don’t want to say I’m happy about it — but I think strangely, this kind of falls to what I was talking about. A lot of the adjustments I made, I’m getting back to being the person that I am, or throwing the way that I throw. I haven’t done that in a while. It takes some adjustments. …

“Honestly, I’m kind of using these few days as a jolt to the system to get refreshed, just let my body kind of recover as much as it can.”

Since next Tuesday is an off-day following the April 6 opener, Detroit technically doesn’t need a fifth starter until April 12. That would require David Price pitching on regular rest and starting April 11 in Cleveland. Thus, the Tigers could put Verlander on the disabled list and backdate it to March 28, the day after he left the game in Dunedin, and have him eligible to be activated for April 12. That would allow them to carry another reliever for the first five games if they so chose.

Tigers option Holaday, Collins, essentially set positional roster

The Tigers positional roster is now all but set, including catcher James McCann and utility guys Andrew Romine and Hernan Perez.

The team made most of its final decisions Monday, optioning catcher Bryan Holaday and outfielder Tyler Collins to Triple-A Toledo. Both made last season’s Opening Day roster, and both were in competition to do the same this year.

Also sent to minor-league camp were non-roster invites Jordan Lennerton, Aaron Westlake, Jefry Marte, Xavier Avery, Jason Krizan and Manny Pina.

The moves leave veteran infielder Josh Wilson, also a non-roster invite, as the one extra position player in camp. Manager Brad Ausmus has talked about him all spring as an insurance option.

The remaining decisions for Detroit’s Opening Day roster are in the bullpen, where three relievers must be sent out. Among those in competition are Blaine Hardy, Ian Krol, Angel Nesbitt, Bruce Rondon and Kyle Ryan, believed to be for two spots. Rondon and Nesbitt are scheduled to pitch in Monday’s game against the Braves.

Holaday spent the entire 2014 season in Detroit, catching 62 games, but McCann is seen with a higher potential, particularly on offense. His present didn’t hurt either, batting .371 (13-for-35) this spring. The 24-year-old was a September call-up last year and made an impression on team officials when he caught a well-pitched game from Justin Verlander on Sept. 19 in Kansas City.

“It was definitely a big confidence-building game,” McCann said. “One, it was a huge game [in the division race] at the time. And being on the road, catching Verlander for the first time in a game — I never even caught him in a Spring Training game — and the success that we had together being able to get on the same page, that was definitely a confidence boost to build on this spring.”

McCann is expected to get the bulk of his starts against left-handed starts in a platoon with veteran Alex Avila.

“I would say Alex will probably get more playing time at this point going into the season,” Ausmus said. “Now, that could change, but certainly McCann will see some left-handed pitching, and he’d have to see some right-handed pitching just because he could be sitting on the bench.”

Both Perez and Romine are backups at this point. However, they’re backups at several positions, having added first base and outfield work to their infield duties this spring. They’re even seen as emergency catchers; Perez will get an inning or two behind the plate in a minor-league game Monday, Ausmus said, while Romine is expected to do the same Tuesday.

The two were viewed in competition when camp began. With Detroit’s four-man outfield rotation largely set, however, Ausmus came around to the idea of keeping both at the expense of Collins, who struggled with limited playing time last April.

“He understood that just sitting on the bench, getting one or two at-bats a week, wouldn’t be good for him,” Ausmus said. “It would be better for him to be playing every day, should something happen to one of our outfielders, he can come up and fill that spot.”

Sunday’s lineups: Tigers at Phillies

The Tigers’ efforts to get Victor Martinez at-bats hit a road block: The Phillies did not give them approval to use the designated hitter. It’s the home team’s call when an American League team visits a National League team, and while it usually gets approval early in the spring, it becomes more of a question later once NL teams need to get their starting pitchers at-bats and don’t have as many extra position players. Still, it’s a surprise, considering three NL teams last week — the Pirates, Nationals and Braves — allowed Detroit to use a DH while not using one themselves.

“That’s their call, and that’s fine,” said Ausmus, noting that Anibal Sanchez could use a time or two at the plate to get ready for his second regular-season start at Pittsburgh next month.

On the other side, the Phillies pitching list includes closer Jonathan Papelbon and former Tiger Andy Oliver, who’s trying to make the Phillies bullpen as a Rule 5 pick. With 10 innings of two-run ball on five hits along with 18 strikeouts (albeit seven walks), he’s got a shot.

Today’s game is on MLB.TV through Comcast SportsNet Philly. It’ll be rebroadcast on MLB Network at midnight for all you night owls. You can also listen to the radio broadcast online, or over the air in Detroit on 97.1.

TIGERS

  1. Rajai Davis, CF
  2. Tyler Collins, RF
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B
  4. Yoenis Cespedes, LF
  5. James McCann, C
  6. Jefry Marte, 3B
  7. Hernan Perez, SS
  8. Josh Wilson, 2B
  9. Anibal Sanchez, P

P: Anibal Sanchez, Blaine Hardy, Angel Nesbitt

PHILLIES

  1. Ben Revere, LF
  2. Russ Canzler, 3B
  3. Chase Utley, 2B
  4. Ryan Howard, 1B
  5. Carlos Ruiz, C
  6. Odubel Herrera, CF
  7. Jeff Francoeur, RF
  8. Freddy Galvis, SS
  9. Aaron Harang, P

P: Aaron Harang, Jeanmar Gomez, Jonathan Papelbon, Justin De Fratus, Andy Oliver

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