Tigers manager Jim Leyland isn’t about to handicap the battle for the final two spots in the starting rotation, at least not publicly. And if he were to do that, he certainly wouldn’t do it after one Spring Training outing for each competitor. But he did speak candidly on the ideal situation for the team and it’s one that includes “big contract” pitchers throwing well and earning their jobs.
Leyland, as quoted by MLB.com’s Jason Beck:
"“The ideal situation,” he said, “is if people that have [big] contracts pitch for you. That’s the ideal situation. You know that. I know that. There’s no sense beating around the bush. There’s no sense asking leading questions about it, because you guys all know the answers to it.“We have some contracts. You know that. You know I know that. You know the general manager knows that. Hopefully those guys are good — let me put it that way.”"
As Beck points out, it’s entirely possible that none of the three “big contract” hurlers wind up pitching well enough to earn a starting job with this club. But for Jeremy Bonderman, Nate Robertson, and Dontrelle Willis, their contracts do mean they will get every opportunity to win a spot on the starting staff.
While the front of the rotation is set with Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello, and Max Scherzer, the final two spots remain unclear. Early indications from Tigers management have indicated that if Bonderman is healthy, he would be the number four. Still, Bonderman has made just one start since June of 2008, so his health is anything but certain. But Bonderman pitched well in the Grapefruit League opener on Wednesday, so there is no reason to think he is anything but healthy to this point.
If we assume that Bonderman wins the fourth spot, we’re looking at Robertson and Willis in competition with Armando Galarraga, Eddie Bonine, and possibly Phil Coke for the final spot on the starting staff. From a strictly financial standpoint, it would be best for the Tigers if both Robertson and Willis earned their money this season, but with really only one open spot, obviously someone will be left out of the mix.
One appearance for each competitor is far too early to call this race, but if I were keeping score, and I am, it would go like this: Bonderman in the lead, fourth spot is all but his. The fifth spot leader would have to be Willis based on his two scoreless innings yesterday, though he did walk two. Robertson walked three in two innings Wednesday yet was light years better than Galarraga. Armando was all over the place yesterday, allowing four runs on four hits and two walks in one inning versus the Jays.
Theoretically, you could add Coke and Bonine to the mix as well, but Coke is probably the least likely starter at this point, especially given the soreness in the shoulder of Bobby Seay. If Seay can’t go, Coke will be used as the left handed set-up man. Bonine pitched well down the stretch last season and showed he can be serviceable, which is better than any other potential starter was in 2009. He makes his first appearance of the Spring today versus the Astros.