By: Will Burchfield
True, it’s only spring training. And true, everyone should probably just chill out.
But it’s hard to ignore the fact that through three weeks of warmup baseball the Tigers pitching staff has been battered around the Grapefruit League. For a team whose X-factor will likely be its starting rotation, that’s not a good sign.
Things seemed to come to a head on Monday after the team’s fifth straight defeat, a 7-2 loss to the Orioles. The Tigers had allowed 76 runs over their previous 10 games and manager Brad Ausmus had seen enough.
“The way we’ve pitched has been awful,” Ausmus told reporters in Lakeland, Fla. “I mean, it’s spring, a lot of the guys are clearly not in midseason form, but we’ve got to pitch better than this.
“You might have one game like this, but what is this, five or six in a row? You’ve got to pitch better than this. It’s still big-league spring training. You’re still a big-league player; you’ve got to pitch better.”
Things have gone further south since.
The Tigers yielded 11 runs to the Phillies on Tuesday, five to the Mets on Thursday and six to the Blue Jays on Friday. Through 15 spring training games, they’ve allowed 6.8 runs per game.
Is it time to worry?
Of the various pitchers who have struggled this spring, very few of them will play a big role when the real games begin next month. Some of them won’t even be on the Tigers roster.
Mike Pelfrey and Anibal Sanchez have both been awful, but aren’t going to be relied upon for much more than long relief. (Assuming the Tigers keep them around.) Chad Bell and Miles Jaye have been serving up batting practice, but are destined for Triple-A.
Have some key pitchers looked shaky? Sure — Shane Greene and Bruce Rondon, to name a couple. But sample sizes are still extremely small, and what’s Spring Training for if not working out the kinks?
Besides, the focus this spring is more squarely on the rotation. Any optimism surrounding the Tigers stems largely from the quintet of Justin Verlander, Michael Fulmer, Jordan Zimmermann, Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd. In that regard, there isn’t a whole lot to be concerned with.
Verlander and Fulmer look poised to form the same one-two punch they did last season. Zimmermann, though he struggled in his most recent start on Friday, has otherwise had a positive spring as he recovers from an injury-riddled 2016 campaign. Norris has picked up where he left off at the end of last season and Boyd looks to be staking his claim to the fifth spot in the rotation.
All told, and all things considered, the Tigers’ pitching outlook remains relatively bright. Now, would it be nice to see them allow fewer than seven runs per game?