With only one more week of spring training games to decide the Tigers’ last bullpen and rotation spots, Duane Below took the mound against New York and bullpen candidates Brayan Villarreal, Luis Marte and Chris Bootcheck got their inning of work against the Phillies.
The end result? We’re no closer to resolution than we were before. Below allowed a leadoff home run to Derek Jeter, but after that allowed only three baserunners in 3 2/3 – none of whom crossed home plate. And bear in mind that this was against the Yankees and ‘on the road’ at that (which in part simply means that more of the Yankees regulars would be playing). Altogether Below has done a decent, but not exceptional, job this spring. If he could get a 4.38 ERA as the Tigers fifth starter I think we’d all be happy. The problem for Below this spring (in what has been, of course, a pretty tiny sample size) has been poor peripherals that didn’t quite fit that ERA. Today he helped to correct that imbalance and probably did what was necessary to give himself another chance next week.
Presumably the Tigers bullpen vacancy will be filled by a right-hander, though I wouldn’t go so far as to say that this is etched in stone, and provided Collin Balester doesn’t pitch himself off the team (and he certainly hasn’t thus far) there sill only be one such vacancy. The only righties still getting regular innings would be Marte, Villarreal and Bootcheck – none of whom had allowed a run prior to today. All three got an inning in against half of the Phillies (Bootcheck) or the Yankees (Marte & Villarreal) and the only one to allow a run was Chris Bootcheck – who gave up a homer in the ninth to some guy you’ve never heard of. That is the only run he has allowed this spring, but… giving up a run in the ninth inning of a split squad game is much the same as giving up a run in a minor league spring training game. Doesn’t look good. Villarreal came close to imploding himself (and not with one bad pitch) by walking Curtis Granderson and hitting Doug Bernier and Alex Rodriguez. Nonetheless, he got out of the jam with a couple of ground balls to keep his spring ERA of 0. Marte did the same thing an inning later but looked to be more ‘in control’ – allowing no hits and no walks while notching another K.
Bootcheck may have never really been in the running, or perhaps only as a fallback option should the younger arms tank, but with Marte and Villarreal still both sporting those 0.00 ERAs the contest continues to go forward with no clear favorite. I would note, however, that despite the conventional wisdom that Villarreal is the one with the overpowering stuff it’s only Marte that seems to be missing bats. Villarreal hasn’t struck out a batter in his last four appearances and 3 Ks in 8 1/3 innings sounds more like a David Pauley.