By Jeff O'Brien

Eduardo Rodríguez is the highest-paid and most experienced pitcher on the Detroit Tigers after signing a $77 million, five-year contract.

BOSTON, MA – AUGUST 28: Eduardo Rodriguez #52 of the Boston Red Sox delivers in the first inning during a game against the Kansas City Royals on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

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Yet, manager A.J. Hinch doesn’t believe in labeling someone a No. 1 starter.

“I know the players probably take responsibility where they pitch,” Hinch said Wednesday, “but to me, the No. 1 pitcher is the guy who starts the game.”

Rodríguez, a 29-year-old left-hander, will start Friday’s exhibition opener and perhaps the Tigers’ opener against the Chicago White Sox on April 8.

“The pitching has obviously got to get up and running quickly,” Hinch said. “You’re looking at four starts per starter. You’re looking at trying to condense how many outings the guys have. We’ve got to get ’em into games faster. We’re not going to get a ton of looks at our younger guys in camp.”

BOSTON, MA – JULY 17: Eduardo Rodriguez 52 of the Boston Red Sox delivers in the first inning of a game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway Park on July 17, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

Rodríguez has 153 career starts. Casey Mize, Matt Manning and left-handers Tarik Skuba and Tyler Alexander, the four pitchers likely to join him in Detroit’s rotation, have a combined 116 — most of them last season.

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“I’m glad he’s here and I know he’s going to help us,” Mize said of Rodríguez. “He bolsters our staff and he makes us better.”

Only Mize and Skubal started last season in the rotation. Manning came up in June and started 18 games. Alexander spent most of the season in the bullpen and became a starter on a regular basis in August.

“At this time last year Mize was in pencil, Skubal was maybe in a little darker pencil, Matt Manning was definitely going to Triple-A,” Hinch said. “Going forward now, having fewer holes, this is a harder team to make because of those answers that we already have coming into camp.”

MINNEAPOLIS, MN – SEPTEMBER 29: Casey Mize #12 of the Detroit Tigers delivers a pitch against the Minnesota Twins in the first inning at Target Field on September 29, 2021 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)

Detroit improved its ERA to 4.32 last year from 5.63 in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. A deeper bullpen included Michael Fulmer, Joe Jimenez, Jose Cisnero, Alex Lange, and closer Gregory Soto.

“Towards the end of the year I thought we were one of the better bullpens in the league because everybody kind of knew their role,” Fulmer said. “A.J. had a plan and stuck to it, and it paid off for us.”

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