Pondering Pen Possibilities

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:

Ryan Perry

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.

Casey Fien

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.

Freddy Dolsi

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.

Juan Rincon

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.

Clay Rapada

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.

Kyle Bloom

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.

Alfredo Figaro

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?

14 Comments

  1. Ryan

    March 15, 2009 at 11:59 pm

    I think the pen should be this.

    LR – Miner
    LOOGY – Rapada
    MR – Seay
    MR – Rincon
    MR – Rodney
    SU – Zumaya (if healthy, like that will ever happen)
    CL – Lyon

  2. Eric Cioe

    March 16, 2009 at 12:13 am

    Lyon, Rodney, Seay, Rincon, Fien, Rapada, Miner. Perry sent to AA for seasoning. Zumaya on the DL. Whoever pitches poorest gets replaced by Joel when he’s good to go. Same for the second-worst guy and Perry.

  3. Mr. X

    March 16, 2009 at 1:15 am

    Dont’ forget about Nate Robertson and Dontrell Willis. If these guys aren’t hurt, they’ll probably be somewhere on the team.

  4. Chris Y.

    March 16, 2009 at 3:15 pm

    I’m not sure Miner isn’t close to pitching his way out of the pen at this point.

    Does he have options left?

    He really has not looked good at all this spring, especially of late. And given the performance of Rincon, Fein, Perry, Rapada, even Dolsi for that matter, especially in the free-pass category, space is getting tight.

    I hope.

  5. Chauncey

    March 16, 2009 at 4:20 pm

    Mr. X- why would Robertson and Willis be on this team anywhere? I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Robertson gets cut, and Willis is in Toledo. Why on earth would the Tigers take these guys north at the expense of taking real relievers worth something to them?

    My guess for the ‘pen would be: Seay, Lyon, Rincon, Rodney, Rapada (simply b/c he’s a lefty), Perry (until Zumaya is healthy) and Miner, although I agree with Chris Y that Miner may be very close to pitching his way off the team. I don’t know how you don’t put Perry on the team at this point, at least until Zumaya is healthy, if that ever happens. Also, how do you not give serious consideration to Rincon, who unlike a lot of Tiger’s relievers can go more than an inning at a time, and hasn’t allowed a run yet in ST?

  6. Andre in Chi

    March 16, 2009 at 4:36 pm

    Chauncey,

    I’d suggest checking out this article @ the Freep: (http://www.freep.com/article/2.....e+a+winner)

    If you’re lazy, this quote from Steve Phillips mentions:

    “One thing to remember is that, over the course of the season, you need more than five starting pitchers,” Phillips said in a telephone interview. “If you release veterans and keep the young guys, and then something happens with the young guys, what’s your fallback?”

    As far as Miner being close to pitching himself off the team, I would doubt that considering his career numbers, although he’s certainly not doing himself any favors so far. If spring training was really about everyone actually pitching to earn their spot in the rotation, Robertson would actually be ahead of Verlander with a lower ERA and better K/BB ratio. But you don’t want that right? Because you know that Verlander is better, right?

  7. Chris Y.

    March 16, 2009 at 5:09 pm

    I don’t know this for certain (obviously), but given all the talk, I really expect the BEST club right NOW comes north, not the BEST club of the PAST. If that is true, Miner didn’t do himself any favors today. Especially in light of the stiff competition that is happening for the bullpen right now.

    Miner certainly has proven himself to be sound in a number of different roles, and I hope he wins (emphasis on WINS) a spot. Personally, I think he has, in the past, deserved a real shot at the rotation. But, just as there have been good stretches for Miner, there have also been stretches where his stuff was no better, or worse, than league-average. If he doesn’t have his sinker working, he’s usually got nothing. And today, he looked pretty bad early on.

    Spring has got a ways to go, but at current trajectories, you have to think Miner has at least put his status in some doubt.

  8. Chris in Nashville

    March 16, 2009 at 5:26 pm

    I agree with Ryan…that should be he pen at this point. I think Rincon has shown enough, Zumaya will probably start on the DL, so why not give Perry a shot, if he does well keep him up, if he struggles, there is always Toledo. Rapada I think has shown enough as well to warrant a spot to go along with Seay. Hopefully Rodney will keep this up and Lyon is strong. That isn’t a bad bullpen, it just depends on Rodney staying consistent and Lyon doing his job. If they do, think about Rincon and Seay or Rapada in the 6th and 7th. That is much more depth than last year.

    As far as Willis and Robertson…if neither prove they are worthy of a spot on the team, why not send them thru waivers and put them in the minors? Is anyone really going to claim them at this point with their salaries? It would suck to pay that much money for 2 minor leaguers, but maybe they could find themselves in the minors and be ready to be called up if Porcello isn’t ready or anyone else gets hurts. It would be an expensive insurance policy, but at least they won’t be released and we lose them altogether.

  9. Andre in Chi

    March 16, 2009 at 5:45 pm

    Chris Y.

    In general I agree with your argument of the best of present vs past. There are considerations that need to be made beyond just who’s the “best” now, as Phillips mentions in the quote I list above. If they fail to “earn” their rotation spots, its certainly possible to cut Miner, Willis and Robertson in favor of Porcello, Perry or whomever else out-pitches them. The Tigers would, however, find themselves in a bind if anything should happen to the pitching staff that would cause them to call up minor league talent, only to possibly find none.

    BTW, who’s best present vs past is subjective. If you throw out the past, and just make the decisions on pitching staff based on now (spring training), like I mentioned earlier, you’ll find Robertson is better “now” than Verlander, although the latter’s “past” clearly show’s he’s better.

    Its best not to draw predictive lines outwards from spring training. Miner is by no means one of the top 3-4 rotation pitchers that the Tigers have available, but he’s shown (albeit in the past) to be a solid end of the rotation pitcher and there’s nothing of the age/injury variety that would rule out an eventual return to form. Miner, as well as Robertson and Willis, should be afforded as much time as possible to prove themselves.

    Cutting these guys prematurely would only inflate the significance of the question mark that is Bonderman’s health, as well as place added pressure on the shoulders of Porcello.

  10. Mr. X

    March 16, 2009 at 8:14 pm

    Robertson and Willis are already on the roster and are under contract. These big contracts won’t go away, especially with the economy the way it is and the uncertainty of the rest of the pitching staff. Bondo and Verlander are questionable now. Our only dependable starter at this point is Galarraga.

    Maybe next season they can think about eating their contracts, but it certainly won’t happen this season.

  11. Vince in MN

    March 16, 2009 at 11:07 pm

    Miner has an option left, I believe, which leaves some flexibility there. If he does indeed pitch himself off the team, he won’t be cut, but will pitch himself onto Toledo instead. I wouldn’t pencil him in anywhere at this point, which would leave 4 pen spots open. Fortunately, the competition is unexpectedly (and pleasantly) stiff so far.

  12. Mark L

    March 17, 2009 at 2:18 am

    Remember how worried we were about the bullpen? It’s amazing what a couple relatively minor free-agent signings can do (Lyon and Rincon). It’s nice to have those fears relieved, but it’s too bad that the rotation is such a mess.

  13. JAY RC

    March 17, 2009 at 3:06 am

    Just my 2cents
    (I have been to all home games this spring)

    LongRelief Miner
    MiddleRelief Rincon
    Lefty Seay
    Lefty Rappada
    Set up Perry
    Set up Rodney
    Closer Lyon

    *As bad as Willis has been it’s clear that they will claim a b/s injury allowing them to rehab and start Dontrelle in AAA for 30 days.
    **Robertson will claim the 5 spot on a very short leash.
    ***Porcello will start in AA and be called up by this summer.

    Once Zumaya is ready to come back, the weakest link is cut.

  14. greg

    March 17, 2009 at 8:13 am

    Willis, Miner, Robertson……yikes.

    If anyone has any confidence in any of them, they’re setting themselves up for disappointment.

    I want to see Perry and Porcello and see what they can do. So what if it’s supposedly ‘risky’? I just don’t care. Let’s see what they can do. If they’re too fragile to handle the big league gig, oh well, life goes on.