–The explanation for why Detroit’s top two pitching prospects, Andy Oliver and Jacob Turner, were included in the Tigers’ first big roster cut of spring training while two lesser hurlers were not lies in their utility.
Southpaws Charlie Furbush and Adam Wilk were kept to continue pitching exhibition games while Oliver was sent to Class AAA and Turner was dispatched to Class AA.
Furbush and Wilk are season-opening roster bullpen candidates while Oliver and Turner will start the openers for Toledo and Erie, respectively.
Oliver and Turner showed they are on the verge of being ready to start in the majors. Oliver demonstrated he learned from going 0-4 in five starts for the Tigers last summer. He relied less on his fastball and more on his off-speed stuff this spring. Turner is a legitimate four-pitch starter who, like Rick Porcello before him, could pitch in the majors at age 20.
Wilk and Furbush were starters who opened eyes in the minors last season.
Furbush was second in the minors in strikeouts last season but has shown a little wildness this spring, although he has pitched effectively. He could make the Tigers as a long reliever.
Wilk has the edge at the moment, although he’s no lock.
What Wilk, the organization’s minor league pitcher of the year for 2010, offers is a solid four-pitch assortment who works both sides of the plate with control. His fastball is average but his poise and ability to work the corners mean he could get his feet wet in the majors in long relief.
Detroit used Brad Thomas and Eddie Bonine as their main long relievers a year ago but Bonine was let go after the season and Thomas is showing a better curve, which could let him be used in middle relief or in the late-inning jobs that Phil Coke got. Coke is starting this year.
That Furbush and Wilk are without major league experience doesn’t mean anything. Manager Jim Leyland likes talent more than experience and his rookie roster choices with Detroit have included Justin Verlander, Joel Zumaya, Rick Porcello and Ryan Perry in past seasons.
Even if Wilk and Furbush are sent to the minors, that they survived the first cut means they have an opportunity to be brought up quickly.
–2B Will Rhymes has earned the Opening Day job, beating out 2B Scott Sizemore, who was optioned to Class AAA Toledo. Rhymes, who will be slotted in the No. 2 spot in the batting order against right-handed pitchers, was hitting .271/.308/.354 through 15 spring games. Sizemore batted .243/.300/.432 this spring. Rhymes will hold down the position until Carlos Guillen (knee) can return, but it’s unclear when that will be.
–OF Clete Thomas and RHP Robbie Weinhardt were optioned to Class AAA Toledo. Thomas, whose 2010 season was cut short by microfracture knee surgery, hit .286/.311/.357 with no homers and six RBI in 17 games this spring. Weinhardt, who had been battling to fill the roster vacancy left by injured RHP Joel Zumaya, allowed three runs in 9 2/3 spring innings.
–LHP Fu-Te Ni and C Max St-Pierre were reassigned to the Tigers’ minor league camp. Ni had a solid spring, allowing just one run and four hits in 10 innings. St-Pierre went hitless in nine at-bats.
–LHP Daniel Schlereth was scheduled for a two-inning tuneup after his March 16 inning resulted in four straight walks. “I was trying to locate my fastball on the inner half of the plate, but couldn’t do it,” Schlereth said. “I can’t remember having location as bad as that in a long time. I would have been in trouble in Little League. I don’t know what the problem was.” Schlereth missed more than a week’s worth of work with a hamstring strain and his wildness came after a good inning in his first outing back.
–RHP Justin Verlander was having a good spring in his effort to avoid going through a bad April again. Verlander allowed one run in a March 15 start against Boston and it raised his spring ERA to 1.20. He enters the 2011 season with a 7-11 record and 5.06 ERA for his 26 starts in April only to bounce back in May for an 18-8 mark with a 2.75 ERA for 29 career starts. “I have to compliment Justin on trying to take his game to the next level,” manager Jim Leyland said. “He’s figured things out himself. I give him a lot of credit. He knows what he’s doing.”
–2B Carlos Guillen will open the season on the disabled list. Manager Jim Leyland said Guillen, 35, will be left behind to recuperate from last fall’s microfracture knee surgery. “I want him to be 100 percent when he comes back, so whenever that is, it’s fine. I’m not rushing anybody,” Leyland said. “If you do bring him back now, you can’t play him every single day on it. You might be able to get him some at-bats by way of the DH, but you’ve still got to play the field and run the bases as well. I’m not frustrated about it. I’m just making the point.” He added that Guillen and RHP Joel Zumaya, who will also open the season on the DL, “could end up … two of the most important pieces as the season rolls on.”
–RHP Joel Zumaya will remain in Florida on the disabled list, manager Jim Leyland said, when Detroit opens the season in New York against the Yankees. Zumaya pitched in Detroit’s first exhibition game, but lingering soreness in his surgically repaired right elbow kept him out of action after that. He was told not to pick up a baseball and still had not resumed throwing through March 18. “He’s feeling better,” Leyland added, “but walking around, and bending your elbow and everything is different from feeling better when he’s throwing 98 miles an hour.”
–RF Magglio Ordonez has shown little lingering effects of fracturing his ankle last July 25. Ordonez, who will play at 37 this year, hit his first home run of the spring March 13 and was looking good at the plate and in the field all spring. “I never was worried about my form,” he said. “I knew the ankle was going to take some time to heal, and once it healed, it’s nothing to worry about. I don’t consider myself an old player. I feel good. I think as long as you work, you can play for a long time. Every year, it gets harder and harder, but I’m just going to try to be consistent and try to do what I’ve done in the past — drive in runs and hit for average with some power.” Ordonez is at the stage of his career where he goes year-by-year. He is signed for $10 million this season.
–LHP Andy Oliver was among 18 players optioned to the minors or reassigned to minor league camp March 15, the first big roster cut of the spring by Detroit. Oliver was optioned to Class AAA Toledo and was expected to be the Opening Day pitcher for the Mud Hens. He showed much better confidence and command of his off-speed pitches and relied less on his fastball, lessons learned last summer when he was 0-4 in a five-start summer call-up by the Tigers.
–RHP Jacob Turner was optioned to Class AA Erie March 15 as part of the Tigers’ first big round of cuts in spring training. Turner, Detroit’s top choice in the 2009 draft, worked at two Class A levels last year in his first exposure to pro ball. He has four solid pitches and was expected to open the season for the SeaWolves. Turner showed last spring and again this year he can get major league hitters out. He needs to build up his stamina and get more experience.
BY THE NUMBERS
5.06/2.75 — Earned run averages posted by RHP Justin Verlander in April and May over his career. A chief emphasis of the Detroit ace this spring was to eliminate that bad first month. He owns a 7-11 career record in 26 April starts but is 18-8 in 29 May starts.
QUOTE TO NOTE
“The thing is to not fall into a performance trap — to figure out, instead, what’s best for the team instead of ‘0-for-4 off it, 3-for-4 on it.’ If you just go only by performance, you’re nothing more than a fan.” — Manager Jim Leyland, on figuring out the season-opening roster.
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