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Tigers possess multiple candidates for middle-relief roles

The Sports Xchange

The Tigers have one, maybe two, spots open for competition in the bullpen this spring.

Jose Valverde has the closer's role nailed down, and Joaquin Benoit returns as the primary setup guy in Jim Leyland's seven-man bullpen.

Octavio Dotel was signed to help out in the seventh and eighth innings, with Phil Coke and Daniel Schlereth providing left-handed options. That's five seats filled.

You'd have to presume Collin Balester, brought over from Washington in a trade for Ryan Perry, has the inside track for the sixth spot, or why else would Detroit have given up a hard-thrower such as Perry? Balester is out of options, one of the reasons the Nationals traded him, another factor working in his favor.

Still, Balester needs to show in the spring he can be a reliable middle-inning reliever because the Tigers don't have a lot invested in him.

That leaves just one vacancy, at least until Al Alburquerque returns from elbow surgery around the All-Star break.

Left-hander Duane Below showed last summer he might be able to provide occasionally strong middle-inning relief. He was not used regularly in September, though, and he got beat up in those infrequent appearances.

David Pauley, acquired at the trade deadline from Seattle along with Doug Fister, wasn't nearly as effective with the Tigers as he was with the Mariners, but he has decent major league experience.

Other candidates include Bryan Villarreal, who made the Opening Day roster but didn't pitch effectively after that, along with Luis Marte and lefty Adam Wilk.

Leyland keep Villarreal last year off an impressive spring, and another young Detroit pitcher could do the same this year.

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