Dark Horses In The Lead Down The Stretch

Mar 6, 2012; Jupiter, FL. USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Drew Smyly (80) delivers a pitch against the Miami Marlins at Roger Dean Stadium. The Tigers defeated the Marlins 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-US PRESSWIRE

The Detroit Tigers didn’t have many question marks when they arrived in Lakeland this spring. Still, there was work to be done and a few decisions to be made.

Like previous years, a spot remained open on the bench. Rounding out the bullpen with an arm or two was also on the list of things to do. Perhaps the most interesting battle in Tiger Town this spring has been the race to claim the final spot in the rotation though.

Whittling down a roster can be a tall task. Things have a way of working themselves out though.

Over the last week, we’ve witnessed Adam Wilk take a bit of a step back. Top prospect Jacob Turner has also unofficially bowed out because of tendinitis in his right arm. Duane Below hasn’t really done much to separate himself from the pack either.

The heard has definitely thinned itself out this past week. While we’re still approximately two weeks away from an official decision, it’s no secret that the two most unlikely candidates are now heavy favorites.

Andy Oliver chased a mediocre season with a horrific Arizona Fall League last year. After a few adjustments, he now appears to be in the drivers seat to earn another chance with the big league club. His slider has looked sharp and he’s limited the walks; his Achilles heel in past seasons. If you include the exhibition matchup against Florida Southern, Oliver has pitched 12 shutout innings this spring. Still, Oliver’s past implosions are certainly in the back of the minds of the Tigers brass.

Enter Drew Smyly.

This spring Smyly has quietly put impressive numbers that easily bring him into the conversation. Through eight innings, Smyly has surrendered four hits, three walks and only one run. The 2011 Detroit Tigers Minor League Pitcher of the Year Award recipient has also struck out seven this spring.

I’ve heard all sorts of arguments why Drew Smyly won’t win the job. Folks have cited his inexperience beyond AA-Erie. I’ve also heard the theory that it’s improbable because he’s not currently on the 40-man roster. Well, the dismal of David Pauley and injury to Victor Martinez has opened up a seat for Mr. Smyly; so that takes care of that. As for the experience, this is the Detroit Tigers we’re talking about, do I really have to address that?

Smyly’s ceiling might be a bit of an enigma but his stuff is legit. His poise on the mound is far beyond his years of service.He might not heat up a radar gun but his four pitch repertoire is polished. The crafty southpaw does a great job keeping the ball in the yard–just 2 home runs last year–largely in part to his ability to generate weak contact. The 22-year-old can miss bats too, striking out over a batter per inning last season.

I suppose it’s possible that a healthy Turner or improved Below could jump back in the race. As of now, it appears a two horse race for the final spot in the Tigers rotation though. Regardless of what decision is made, the Tigers appear to be in a good spot with solid options. For whomever is the odd man out, will likely be the first called up if/when a fresh arm is needed.

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Tags: Adam Wilk Andy Oliver Detroit Tigers Drew Smyly Duane Below Jacob Turner Spring Training

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