LAKELAND, Fla. -- While Tigers manager Jim Leyland ponders his idea for the fifth starter, the next stage -- and possibly final stretch -- of the competition derby is set. And thanks to Doug Fister's middle finger soreness, both Drew Smyly and Andy Oliver will get starts out of it.
With Fister scratched from his previously scheduled start Wednesday against the Cardinals, Drew Smyly will start in his place. Smyly had been scheduled to start against the Astros on Tuesday, but that start will go to Andy Oliver.
Oliver will get another start Sunday when the Tigers have their final split-squad set of the spring. He'll start against the Mets on Sunday in Port St. Lucie, with Fister tentatively scheduled to return for the home end of that set against the Astros at Joker Marchant Stadium.
As for Duane Below, who started Sunday against the Yankees and pitched 3 2/3 innings of one-run ball, Leyland said he'll probably pitch in relief his next outing, piggybacking off either Oliver or Smyly.
"I have an idea," Leyland said Monday morning about the fifth starter, as well as the final positional spot on the roster.
However, Leyland isn't the only voice on the decision. He'll discuss the competition with coaches over the next week, and eventually with team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski, who gets the final say.
Young has sore knee, but Tigers not worried
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Just as the Tigers are hoping to have Miguel Cabrera back in the coming days, they might have a new injury to worry about. Delmon Young left Monday's 3-3 tie with the Marlins after three innings with a sore left knee.
Young is listed as day to day. Manager Jim Leyland indicated the injury isn't anything serious.
"Left knee's sore, but he's fine," Leyland said.
It's the first injury of the spring for Young, who got off to a fast start and raised hopes that he could be in for a big season in his contract year before free agency. He entered the game leading the Grapefruit League with a .422 batting average, 39 total bases and 19 RBIs, while ranking third with five home runs.
Young hit into a double play in his only at-bat Monday, dropping his average to .413.
Young has split his starts between left field and designated hitter in recent days, mainly so that the Tigers could get time for Andy Dirks and Clete Thomas in their competition for the final roster spot. Young started in left field Monday, but didn't seem to strain his knee on any particular play.
Young's fast start, plus the Tigers' outfield depth, means Detroit shouldn't be in a bind if he has to miss a few days down the stretch this spring. The Tigers are on the road for the next couple days, including a nearly-three-hour bus ride to Jupiter on Wednesday, so it's possible they'll opt to hold him out until they return home Thursday.
As skid continues, Inge downplays spring stats
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Brandon Inge says he's feeling good at the plate, and he stopped worrying about his Spring Training numbers long ago. Manager Jim Leyland says that the Tigers don't judge veteran players on their spring numbers alone, only as part of a package of criteria.
Still, a .159 batting average at this point in the Grapefruit League isn't what anyone was looking for.
The Tigers have tried to get Inge as many at-bats as possible in order to get a long look at his hitting. He had a .294 average as of March 12 and a .219 average through last Wednesday, but he's hitless since in 13 at-bats since then.
His long at-bat against longtime foe Mark Buehrle, including three consecutive two-strike foul balls to stay alive in the count, might have been his first sign of a long day. The at-bat ended when Inge swung and missed at a particularly deceptive offspeed pitch.
He flied out to center off Buehrle in the fifth inning before grounding into a double play against right-hander Chad Gaudin in the seventh.
Inge's numbers have been stronger against left-handers, the pitchers he's more likely to face in regular-season starts if he wins a timeshare at second base. Still, his two outs against Buehrle on Monday dropped him to .222 (4-for-18) off southpaws this spring.
The one statistical difference is that he has struck out just twice in that 0-for-13 stretch, and eight times on the spring, a drop in his strikeout rate. He said Monday he feels strong enough that he can confidently get to the inside pitch well. To him, given the approach some pitchers have taken against him in the recent past, that's important.
"I feel great," Inge said. "I don't give a care about the numbers."
Efficient Porcello uses sinker effectively
LAKELAND, Fla. -- The fact that the Tigers had a quick game going with Mark Buehrle on the mound for the opposing team wasn't breaking news. The fact that Rick Porcello played a part in it might have been a little bigger.
But if Porcello can use his sinkers for quick outs and pitch deep into a game, he can have those outings. He covered seven innings in 88 pitches Monday, the kind of efficiency he topped just twice last season.
"We were able to get some nice double plays," Porcello said. "A lot of right-handed hitters hit the ball on the ground. So it was good."
One of those double plays came in a situation where Porcello desperately needed it. He had runners at the corners and one out with Hanley Ramirez up in the third inning, but he fed the slugger a steady diet of sinkers to get a grounder to short that Jhonny Peralta turned to the end of the threat.
"I think that was a good situation for me to be in," Porcello said. "Obviously, you're going to face those situations throughout the course of the season. You've got a big guy at the plate and runners on base. Those can be the difference in games, being able to limit the damage there. Me throwing sinkers and him being a right-handed hitter, I wanted to pound him in and get a ground ball."
It's possible that it's the final start of the spring for Porcello, who said he could end up throwing a couple of shorter outings to get him lined up for his first start of the regular season.