By Scott Byrne
Not only is Jim Leyland being challenged by fitting 6 starters into 5 rotation slots, he also needs to decide in what order to deploy his arsenal of arms.
Of course, the starter for Opening Day, April 1 at Minnesota, can be engraved in indelible ink – Justin Verlander. Several factors, however, may force the skipper to be much more flexible in his approach than he cares to be.
Foremost is the weather…after the opening three-game set in the Twin Cities, they come home to face AL East sluggers New York and Toronto. Though the calendar says tomorrow is the first day of spring, the snow piling up outside my slider right now doesn’t seem to be paying attention. Rain/snow delays play havoc with starters’ routines – and it seems unlikely the Tigers rotation will make it through the first two turns without Old Man Winter tossing it a curveball or two.
Next is the schedule…the aforementioned northern climes means off-days are built into the schedule. After the opener on the 1st, the 2nd is ostensibly a “weather day”; the following three Mondays are all scheduled off. Personally, if Verlander was my weapon of choice, I would be running him out there every fifth day and adjusting the rest of the guys around him. But it is probably more likely that Leyland will stick closely to the rotation once it is established, and figure on banking Justin’s energy for later in the year.
Another piece of the puzzle to ponder is the “Porcello Factor”. Right now, it appears as though Rick sticks as the 5th starter, leaving Drew Smyly as a long man or a Mudhen. If Porcello is indeed trade bait, they will want to showcase his new curveball and keep their fingers crossed that his spring training performance carries over, to maximize his value. At this point, he has out-pitched Doug Fister anyway, and probably deserves the #4 spot.
The prestige of pitching the Home Opener figures to present another perplexity. Most close to the club, including Mario Impemba and Rod Allen on today’s broadcast, figure Max Scherzer will earn the honor. That decision essentially entails holding back the #2 starter to fill the #4 rotation spot.
To wrap this up, there are two conclusions in play here – what I would do, and what I think will happen:
1. I’d go Verlander, Sanchez, Porcello, Scherzer, then come back with Verlander on Saturday, and Fister on Sunday. Sanchez can take on the Jays at home on Tuesday, then Porcello and Verlander; Scherzer could then slide in to rightful spot at #2, Sanchez #3, Porcello #4, Fister #5.
2. Most likely, we will see #1 Verlander, #2 Sanchez, #3 Fister, #4 Scherzer, and #5 Porcello, with the inevitable shuffles due to the weather. Doubtful that Leyland will change out of his stubborn stripes – and if this group pitches to it’s potential, it probably won’t matter.
Let the debate begin in the comments section…
Mar 11, 2012; Lakeland, FL, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Justin Verlander (35) pitches during the game against the New York Mets at Joker Marchant Stadium. The Mets beat the Tigers 11-0. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports