Rain washed out the Tigers/Phillies game in Lakeland today but Tigers manager Jim Leyland wasn’t about to let the day pass without getting a few things off his chest. For the past couple of days, Leyland has been hinting through the media about what qualities he’s looking for from his pitchers. Today, he told those pitchers directly.
From Lynn Henning of the News:
"“I told them how critical the next 10 days would be, what I expected, and how I went about my judgments, so they’re very aware of my feelings on what good pitchers do,” said Leyland, who has been hammering home the point that any pitcher who expects to make his staff must throw strikes, and get batters out throwing those strikes.“I think they got the point. I wanted to give them thoughts that I have. I don’t want to surprise anybody. I wanted them to be prepared for expectations.”"
With Opening Day still better than three weeks away, the Tigers have some time to figure out what pitchers fit the mold Leyland is looking for. If things continue progressing as they have so far, the Tigers could have a dramatically different look come April 5.
The biggest battle in camp so far has been taking place for the fifth starter’s role. If we assume Jeremy Bonderman is the number four, we are left with Nate Robertson, Dontrelle Willis, and Aramando Galarraga to battle for the final spot. Eddie Bonine, and to a lesser extent Phil Coke, would gain an opportunity should all other options fail.
The bottom line here is that almost assuredly, two of the three high-priced veterans will make the club, if all are healthy. Bonderman and either Willis or Robertson will head North with the club at the end of camp. What happens to the loser of this contest remains to be seen, but it’s not likely that he would land in the bullpen, or even still be a Tiger.
The bigger question is rapidly becoming the construction of the bullpen.
Obviously Jose Valverde will close games, and Ryan Perry has certainly done enough this spring to quiet any doubts about his status. Leyland plans to go north with seven relievers, at least two of them will be left handed. Coke will take one of those spots, leaving the other for Bobby Seay, or a replacement if Seay’s shoulder isn’t ready by then.
Brad Thomas is the early favorite to step in for Seay, and could make the club as a third lefty even if Seay is healthy. Joel Zumaya will take another spot as a set-up man.
You might have noticed that I haven’t yet mentioned Zach Miner. Of all the potential relievers the Tigers have, Miner might be on the shakiest ground.
You can bet that Leyland’s sermon today was directed at a select few pitchers more than others. If you want to make this team, you must be effective working in the zone, and you must be willing to throw strikes. Falling behind hitters and then having to give in is no way to go through life in the major leagues. But it has been Miner’s modus operandi throughout his career.
Galarraga has apparently been studying Miner’s path and decided to follow along. Since his stellar rookie campaign in 2008, and a few starts at the beginning of 2009, Galarraga has regressed into a nibbler, the most maddening kind of pitcher. Both Miner and Galarraga represent the worst way to go about retiring batters; they just keep nibbling and hope you chase it. When you don’t, they lay a fat one down the pipe and hope you miss it. Major League hitters didn’t get to The Show by missing those pitches very often.
Of course, in order for either of those two to not make the club, there has to be someone capable of taking their job and doing it better. The afore-mentioned Bonine would be the best fit for a long reliever, which would make Galarraga expendable. Galarraga does have a minor league option remaining, so he may end up starting the year in Toledo.
Miner’s role would be more difficult to take, but Cody Satterwhite is leading a charge of young power arms in the Tigers’ system. Satterwhite struggles with command at times as well, but he does pitch aggressively, which is more than can be said of Miner.
There is time yet for Miner and Galarraga to adjust their styles, but if I were to handicap the race right now, I’d project the Opening Day bullpen as follows:
LHP- Seay (or Thomas)
RHP- Satterwhite (ahead of Thomas and Miner)
Long Man- Bonine