Willis and Robertson Making for Tough Decisions


With under three weeks to go in camp, the Tigers have some big decisions looming on the horizon. Most of the roster is set, barring injury of course, but a few slots remain unfilled. Notable among them is the battle for the final two rotation spots.

Lefties Nate Robertson and Dontrelle Willis continue to make strong cases for their inclusion on this team. While both players have hefty contracts, each is in the final year of his deal and speculation has been rampant that the Tigers would release one or both or them should they fail to impress in Lakeland. You could include right hander Jeremy Bonderman in that group as well, but from where I sit, Bondo is all but assured of being the team’s number four guy.

With the sudden and surprising (albeit a pleasant one) demotion of Armando Galarraga yesterday, manager Jim Leyland is now down to three pitchers for one spot in the rotation, with the increasing possibility of one more making the club as a reliever. Earlier in camp, Leyland stressed that none of the starters in camp were guaranteed a bullpen spot should they fail to win a job in the rotation, but as the end of camp draws near, the likelihood increases that one of the two failed starters will wind up in the ‘pen.

If you were laying odds on the five pitchers doing battle for two open spots three weeks ago, Bonderman surely would have been a favorite, followed by Galarraga, Robertson, Eddie Bonine, and Willis -the longest of long shots.

Since then, Galarraga has pitched his way to Toledo while Bonderman has done nothing to lose the job. The remarkable thing is now three weeks later, Willis has actually worked his way into the conversation. A guy that was only in the big league camp because of his contract is showing anyone watching that he is a capable pitcher. It’s been a long time since that was the case.

If you were to rank the potential starters odd again today, it’s likely the order would now be Bonderman as the four and Willis and Robertson in a dead heat for the final spot. While Bonine hasn’t been bad at all, the efforts of the two lefties have passed him by. Anything short of a catastrophic meltdown by either southpaw will keep Bonine out of the rotation.

Of course, Bonine could still make the club as a long man, just as he did a year ago, but he has competition there too. Considering how well Robertson and Willis have pitched thus far, it has gone from a long shot that both would make the team, to almost a probability.

If both lefties continue to get results, Bonine ends up back in Toledo, thanks to his remaining minor league option year. The loser of the starting battle then ends up in the ‘pen as the long reliever. Based solely on past experience, Willis would likely be the starter with Robertson working in relief, waiting for an opportunity to start again.

So what do you think? If the season began today who would make the club as the number five starter and who would be the long man?