With the Tigers edging the Kansas City Royals 5-4 Thursday afternoon, then watching their AL Central lead increase to two games when the Chicago White Sox lost that night, you'd think Jim Leyland would be smiling and happy with six games left to play.
Not so. There's no major league manager around who couldn't find a cloud in a silver lining.
"I'm worried," Leyland said. "This situation with Max (Scherzer) and Rick (Porcello) ... I just don't know."
Knowing Scherzer is going to have to skip at least one start with a reappearance of his right deltoid problem is bad enough, but now Leyland isn't sure what's going on with Porcello. And neither is Porcello.
Leyland is dropping Drew Smyly into Scherzer's start Friday night in Minnesota, convenient because both pitched Sunday in a makeup doubleheader with the Twins. So if he had to, Leyland could also start Smyly in the final regular-season game, Wedneday in Kansas City.
But add in Porcello's mysterious drop in fastball velocity Wednesday, and you're talking about 40 percent of a rotation with possible postseason participation just around the corner.
"I had a long talk with Rick," Leyland said. "It's really a mystery. I don't really know where this is going. He has no pain. We had it checked out.
"But you get to a situation as a manager, 'What do you do?' He's confused. He doesn't know exactly what's going on."
Leyland doesn't run pitchers out to the mound who haven't been certified as healthy. He certainly wouldn't want to start Porcello and then have to yank him in the first because there's nothing here. And nobody else in the bullpen has starting experience ("At least since Nero played for Rome," as Leyland said).
Starting Phil Coke isn't an option because he's having enough trouble getting one or two batters out. Luke Putkonen had miserable results starting a couple of games for Class AAA Toledo. He may have to hope somebody such as Al Alburquerque or Brayan Villarreal can give him three innings, then run through the rest of the bullpen as best he can.
"It's an option," Leyland said. "I hope I don't have to, but it's an option."
Scherzer found out Tuesday his deltoid was causing him problems again.
"I threw my bullpen and was able to loosen up," Scherzer said. "My arm felt OK afterward. But that night during the game, my arm started to tighten up. We treated it during the game, but the next morning, it still locked up. I was concerned."
His fastball was 90-92 mph, about 5-7 mph lower than normal, but his changeup and slider were excellent, and he was able to pitch five solid innings before giving up three hits and three runs in the sixth.
"I have no regrets about making that start,' Scherzer said. "I was 100 percent pain-free, discomfort-free. It's a deltoid strain. It isn't major. But I have to 100 percent listen to what my body says."
While Smyly is a rookie, he has good stuff. He is very poised and confident, plus he's had some dominant outings. He could give Detroit up to seven strong innings if he's right.
"This is not going to be easy," Leyland said. "And it shouldn't be."
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