Tigers Win Again!


4-0 over the Toronto Blue Jays in the first ‘official’ exhibition game of spring training. I suppose that means it ‘officially’ doesn’t count?

Obviously a Tigers’ win is always better than a Tigers’ loss, even if it doesn’t count for anything. It means they played well and if they keep playing well then things much better than an exhibition win might happen.

Many, though far from all, of the Tigers expected starters made the start and with the exception of Avila all saw at least three plate appearances. The whole Venezuelan contingent got the day off, don’t ask me why. No Ordonez, no Martinez, no Cabrera, no Guillen. Peralta, though no Venezuelan, didn’t start either.

We can safely assume that Tiger pitching did well, as it was a shutout after all. Coke started, leading into Duane Below, Al Alburquerque, Brad Thomas, Brendan Wise, John Bale and Robbie Weinhardt. None (obviously) allowed a run, but not all were ‘lights out’. Alburquerque in particular allowed 3 baserunners in his inning but escaped without a run.

Most of this is not terribly fascinating. Many players are far from midseason form, managers aren’t really trying to win, games can be won by players without a prayer of making the big league club. It is, after all, spring training. The thing that makes these games so compelling is the players fighting and clawing for that roster spot. Sometimes it’s the battles we all talk about, sometimes it’s just the guys with the dreams.

Anyone out there is probably dreaming about what could happen if they make enough noise in spring training. Even Duane Below. Even Scott Thorman. Even Lester Oliveros, who allowed 5 runs to Florida Southern. Everybody. Nobody goes into spring training thinking they have no shot at all, they just need some breaks. That’s one reason that I get more interested later in the games than I do when your established stars are taking their hacks. We get to see (or at least listen to a broadcast) highly-touted prospects that probably won’t see Detroit this year, like Turner on Saturday.

And, of course, we get the real battles. The Tigers don’t (yet) have many of those. That is not a bad thing, the Indians have plenty of positions up for grabs. That’s ‘interesting’ for Indians fans in the spring, but I’m sure it’s more than a little distressing. What battles do we have? If Guillen isn’t ready for the start of the season (and he could be) we have an opening at second base. Rhymes and Sizemore will be dueling over that for the next month, although at the last minute the privilege could be given back to Guillen. Rhymes started against Florida Southern, Sizemore against Toronto. Is that a signal? I doubt it. Both played well, Rhymes with a single, run and RBI, Sizemore with a double and a single. Expect this to continue until the last days of camp.

What else is there to watch for? I’m waiting to see who the fourth (and maybe fifth) outfielders on opening day will be. Conventional wisdom has defensive replacement (and according to Rogo at DesigNatE. Robertson, anti-Cabrera conspirator) Don Kelly as a lock for the fourth outfielder spot. I’m not so sure. Even if he makes the team, there may (or may not) be a 5th outfielder chosen for offensive prowess. Brennan Boesch, Casper Wells, Clete Thomas and maybe Andy Dirks or Ryan Streiby will be given ample opportunity to prove they deserve a shot. Really, everything else on the offensive side is sealed up tight as a drum barring injury.

Barring injury, again, all five spots in the rotation are certain. The only question is whether Coke or Penny (or Porcello?) will be the odd man out who misses his first go round in the rotation. Most of the bullpen slots are definite, but maybe a little less ‘definite’ than believed. The seventh spot is up for grabs, with Alburquerque (only because of the contract he was signed to) and Weinhardt as the favorites. They both threw an inning yesterday, Weinhardt didn’t allow a baserunner (against the dregs) and Alburquerque allowed three (against the starters). So far, I’d have to say advantage Weinhardt – if this is in fact the real bullpen battle. Lots of time yet for the guy with the great name to redeem himself. The bullpen situation could be more fluid than assumed, Brad Thomas and Daniel Schlereth are both heavy favorites to make the final roster but either one could pitch himself out of the picture. If Schlereth, for example, walks the side a few times next week we could be talking about the battle over the second lefty slot. You know that’s what guys like John Bale are thinking about, for the rest of us it’s just a little more to hold our interest.