While the performances of the Tigers starters have been fairly unremarkable this spring, things are better at the back end of games. It looks like there are actual battles taking place, and in the favorable sense.
Brandon Lyon, Fernando Rodney, and Bobby Seay are locks for the pen leaving four spots open. Zach Miner is also a pretty solid bet, enough to pencil in at least. That leaves three spots open.
Joel Zumaya could alter that, but he is still dealing with issues with a neck cramp. He is apparently structurally sound, but he doesn’t feel good enough to throw yet. And today Jim Leyland said it was a gray area:
"I only say that because he really hasn’t pitched for two years," Leyland said. "If he had been pitching the last two years and then had a little setback like this, he might be able to get himself ready. But when a guy hasn’t pitched for that long, let me put it this way: It’s in the gray area now, unless something happens."
Now this may sound dire, but really, who was really planning on Zumaya prior to spring training? I also viewed him as a nice potential bonus.
So who are these candidates competing for the 3 spots? Ryan Perry, Casey Fien, Freddy Dolsi, Juan Rincon, Clay Rapada, Kyle Bloom, and Alfredo Figaro. In no particular order, the qualifications for each:
Certainly appealing with the 100mph fastball, and first round draft status, and the results to match so far this spring. 3.2 innings, 3 hits, 1 walk, and 4 K’s are nice. The next step is probably to get him involved early in a game against more starters. Perry isn’t on the 40 man roster, which may work against him, or at least complicate things a little. But the Tigers are fairly aggressive in this regard and Macay McBride would likely be sacrificed.
Fien was a late cut in last year’s camp due to his strike throwing ability. In his minor league career he only has 34 walks in over 160 innings. This spring he’s fanned 6 while walking none in 6 innings. He also isn’t on the 40 man, making it easy to assign him to Toledo. My guess is that’s where he starts, but would likely be a first or second choice if needed.
One of the incumbents, Dolsi has a couple things going for him. Big league experience, a good fastball, and a spot on the 40 man roster. Dolsi also isn’t walking guys with only one free pass in 4.2 innings, but he has given up 8 hits. Also likely headed to Toledo.
Rincon was signed as a minor league free agent and he’s doing exactly what the Tigers had hoped for. Rincon pitched a scoreless inning, his 8th of the spring today with 4 K’s and a walk. He’d also need to be placed on the 40 man roster, but I think he may be on the brink of making the team. Rincon hasn’t had success since 2006 so this may be fleeting. Might as well take advantage of it while it’s working.
Rapada stands a good chance of being the second lefty, if a second lefty is taken. Rapada also hasn’t walked anyone this spring, or been scored upon.
Bloom only makes this run down because of his Rule 5 status. With a manager under the gun, Bloom really needed to impress to warrant a full year spot on the roster. He’s given up 6 runs in 4.1 innings and allowed 8 baserunners. Relievers can get hammered with numbers in such small sample sizes, but Bloom had little room for error. His spot on the 40 man roster will likely be used to add Fien or Perry or Rincon.
Figaro seems to be making an impression, especially after 3 scoreless innings in a spot start today (after Porcello was scratched for a fingernail issue – no biggie). Figaro has been a starter in the minors, but could relieve at the big league level. I was skeptical when he was added to the 40 man roster after some struggles when being promoted to Lakeland at age 23. But this spring he hasn’t allowed a run or a walk. Probably still a long shot, but doesn’t he have to be in the mix?