Going into today’s spring game against the Twins, conventional wisdom would tell you that Andrew Oliver was the heavy favorite for the 5th starter spot with Drew Smyly a distant second and Duane Below & Adam Wilk all but out of the running. The math may look a little bit different now…
Oliver allowed a three runs and a couple of hits today, but you could hardly complain too loudly about that. His ERA ‘skyrocketed’ all the way to 2.13 and he has now allowed a full seven hits in 20 2/3. Ah… but that’s not what we needed to see from Oliver, is it? Oliver is a guy who has struggled with consistency and command and what we needed to see was evidence that refinements to his mechanics were helping in that regard. As of yesterday, you could make that case – though 8 walks in 17 innings isn’t exactly stellar. But today, Oliver walked 5 and now stands at 13 walks (to 15 strikeouts) in 20 2/3. Even if you believe, ardently, that Oliver’s spectacular BABIP and LOB% this spring are due to skill and skill alone – you’ll have to agree that 6 walks per 9 innings isn’t going to cut it for a big league starter. Frankly, it isn’t going to cut it as a big league reliever either unless you strike out 15 per 9 like Al Alburquerque.
I made the case before that Wilk and Below would likely get one (and only one) extra shot to improve their numbers before falling out of the race entirely. Wilk got his, and did nothing with it. Wilk allowed 6 hits in 2 1/3, including a homer and raised his spring ERA to 7.50. Even I must admit: Wilk has looked awfully hittable, and must now be out of the running. Duane Below entered the game in the 8th, but threw only 1 inning. That isn’t the kind of work you’d give a guy who was in the running for a rotation spot.
Now the baton is passed to Drew Smyly: Oliver looks very ‘beatable’, but can Smyly capitalize? If not – we’ll go into the last week of spring training with two tarnished contenders remaining, and the Tigers interest in outside candidates may get much more serious.