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03/22/11 3:18 PM ET

Sizemore, Weinhardt cut as Tigers trim roster

Second baseman, righty among five players sent to Minors

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Scott Sizemore, viewed for a good stretch as seemingly a favorite to win the Tigers' second-base position, is headed back to Triple-A Toledo. So is Robbie Weinhardt, whose bid for one of Detroit's bullpen openings at times appeared among the strongest of anyone in camp.

But as Tuesday's Tigers roster moves showed, perceptions in Spring Training can sometimes get distorted in the Florida sun. The moves also showed some depth in Detroit's system.

While the Tigers trimmed their Spring Training camp by five players Tuesday, including left-hander Fu-Te Ni, outfielder Clete Thomas and catcher Max St. Pierre, the big surprises were Sizemore and Weinhardt. They weren't entirely victims of their own struggles, but fell to strong competition.

The moves put the club's roster at 28 players -- not counting injured Joel Zumaya and Carlos Guillen -- with one more round of cuts to go before the club breaks camp in a week. Leyland hopes to make those final moves Saturday, when the Tigers have their last Spring Training home game before finishing out camp on the road.

Sizemore fell short in a second-base competition that went to Will Rhymes, whom Leyland said will get the first shot to handle the job while Guillen is on the disabled list to open the season. Danny Worth, who can play shortstop and third base in addition to second, remains in camp for a potential utility spot, depending on how the Tigers go with the final slot on the roster.

Sizemore, meanwhile, goes back to Triple-A Toledo for a third season as a Mud Hen. But he goes down earning raves from Leyland about his improvement over last year.

"I want to make it perfectly clear that I was really, totally impressed with Scott Sizemore -- totally different guy," Leyland said. "I think it's 100 percent that Scott Sizemore is a big leaguer now, and I'm not sure I could've said that before. I'm speaking for me personally."

Sizemore opened last season at second base for Detroit before his hitting struggles and limitations with a surgically repaired left ankle prompted a move back to Toledo in May. A hip injury later in the season hampered him further. Not until the stretch run in Toledo and a September callup did Sizemore look and feel healthy.

This spring, however, he looked much improved physically, with another year of health and a full offseason to condition himself. A strong start to camp and a strong first step in the field had him in a strong position to take the job at second base. His 10 RBIs ranked second on the team to Miguel Cabrera's 12, and his 9-for-37 spring clip included four doubles and a home run.

But while Sizemore has yet to show a track record of hitting in the big leagues, Rhymes built one in Detroit last summer. And that made a difference.

"Scott Sizemore was tremendously impressive this year," Leyland said. "I really like what I'm seeing. I think he's a big league player now. I think the decision was made because Will Rhymes got an opportunity last year and hit .304 in the big leagues, and I think he deserves first shot."

Sizemore has alternated starts with Rhymes for much of camp, but had started just two of Detroit's last seven Spring Training games. More recently, he had only one plate appearance over the last three contests, a single on Sunday that marked his first hit in six days.

Meanwhile, Worth also made a strong bid for the spot. Both Sizemore and Worth bat right-handed.

Weinhardt, meanwhile, had re-established himself in camp as a ground-ball specialist, mixing his sinker with an improved slider to get some key ground balls. He inherited a bases-loaded jam Wednesday against the Blue Jays and retired all five batters he faced. Before that, though, he had three outings in which he allowed a run on two hits in one inning.

"I'll tell you guys exactly what I told Weinhardt: His slider is much improved, he has to continue to work on keeping the sinker down on a more consistent basis," Leyland said.

While Weinhardt returns to Toledo, Brayan Villarreal's bid for a bullpen spot is looking strong. He and Enrique Gonzalez are the two right-handers left in camp without a spot assured. The left-handed relief competition, meanwhile, has been whittled down as well to Daniel Schlereth and rookie Adam Wilk, with Brad Thomas all but assured of a job.

Detroit could carry both Schlereth and Wilk and go with three lefty relievers alongside one right-hander, with Villarreal building a strong case to debut in the big leagues. Wilk and Gonzalez are non-roster invitees, so the club would have to clear a spot on the 40-man roster for either of them. Gonzalez is the lone veteran still in camp on a minor league contract.

Of the players left in camp, Leyland said, "We've got so many guys left, and they're all here, and probably everybody but one person is in the mix."

Ni also was a non-roster invite, but he had the benefit of time in the Tigers' bullpen in each of the previous two years. After being taken off the 40-man roster last fall, he made a good early impression in camp, looking physically stronger with better command. He allowed a run on four hits in 10 innings, but he also walked five, including two in one inning Friday against the Red Sox.

"I thought he looked very good this spring for most of the spring," Leyland said. "He looked a little out of control at times during the spring. But Fu-Te Ni is a guy that I think is very important to our organization because of the fact that two years ago, the combination of right-handers and left-handers hit .187 against him at the Major League level. And I think that speaks volumes if he's healthy.

"I think last year he was hurt. I don't think he was himself. I think he probably paid a little bit of a price for that. He's stronger. I think there's a good chance that he could be a very valuable part of our team before it's all over with."

Thomas' camp was a victory of health, having shown no problems in his return from microfracture knee sugery. But he faced an uphill battle to try to win a reserve outfield spot. Brennan Boesch, Andy Dirks and Casper Wells remain in contention, with Wells' position looking more secure as a right-handed hitter.

Both Boesch and Dirks bat left-handed, which put the left-handed-hitting Thomas in a logjam of sorts. Thomas went 12-for-42 (.286) at the plate, but just two of his hits went for extra bases. 

The three outfielders left could be battling for two jobs, as has been believed all along, or they could be battling for one. Leyland said the Tigers are weighing whether to use their final roster spot, one they opened by having designated hitter Victor Martinez as their backup catcher, on an outfielder or an infielder.

"You can make a case for any way you want to go with this team," Leyland said. "You can make a case for taking the extra infielder. You can make a case for taking an extra outfielder. You can make the case for taking Boesch. You can make the case for taking Worth. You can make the case for taking Dirks."

The health of right fielder Magglio Ordonez, Leyland confirmed, could have an impact on that decision. He had his one requested off-day of the spring on Tuesday, something each player gets, so the Tigers won't know the condition of his hamstring tightness until Thursday. If he isn't ready to play then, his readiness could become a question while the club tries to give them enough games and at-bats to catch up.

"That," Leyland said, "is a very good question."

Now, at least, they have fewer questions left to answer. The one at second base has been answered.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.