After today’s game, that is. It seems increasingly likely that the answers to all the big questions in the Tigers bullpen have already been answered. The Tigers entered Spring Training needing to decide on a second lefty behind Phil Coke, on a closer (and where Bruce Rondon should start the season) and potentially on a long-man.
March 19, 2013; Lakeland, FL, USA; Detroit Tigers pitcher Kyle Lobstein (31) looks to deliver a pitch during the game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Joker Marchant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Foldy-USA TODAY Sports
One big question that factors into several of those above is/was what to do with Rule 5 pick Kyle Lobstein. There are still multiple options there, but it isn’t looking like one of them is “give him a spot in the bullpen”. Lobstein surrendered 4 earned in 2 and a third this afternoon to elevate his spring ERA to 7.50 and his spring WHIP to an even 2.00. He’s a lefty, and he was a starter in the minors, so Lobstein could have made the team as a second lefty, a long man or both. As a rule 5 pick, he would have been given more opportunities than just about any other class of invitee to earn that spot, but he just hasn’t been sharp. In truth, none of the Tigers lefty candidates have been other than Darin Downs (who threw another scoreless inning today) and Casey Crosby. The organization isn’t about to convert Crosby into a reliever (at least not yet) so Downs is looking like a mortal lock to make the team over Duane Below and the rest of the lot.
As for the “long man” spot, and Downs looks much more like a situational lefty than a multiple inning reliever, it’s looking increasingly likely that the Tigers simply won’t have one. Bruce Rondon pitched poorly enough to start spring training to make management uncomfortable about simply anointing him as closer, but well enough since to make them reconsider. It’s looking very much like Rondon will make the team and be given some opportunities as part of a closer committee to show he can perform when it counts in the bigs. None of the bullpen incumbents have pitched poorly or been hurt yet, so that’s our final seven… Other guys that had some hope to go north with the team when spring training started needed, fundamentally, Rondon to flame out entirely (or an injury to open up a spot) for that to happen. Tough luck for guys like Luke Putkonen. While it does leave the team without a long man, this rotation should contend for most innings pitched barring injury and those seven bullpen arms would be almost unarguably the most talented seven that they could take north (though Luis Marte would probably take issue with that).
As has been discussed already – it definitely looks like Rick Porcello will be the team’s 5th starter barring a trade and that Drew Smyly will be sent to Toledo (rather than the bullpen) for developmental reasons. There is a fair bit of spring training remaining, but at the moment all of the real “unresolved” questions look to be on the positional side. With the exception of backup catcher, literally every bench spot is still up in the air.