Miguel Cabrera's arrest for a second alcohol-related offense since the final weekend of the 2009 season gave a negative start to Detroit's spring training but the Tigers shrugged it aside for the businesslike preparation month they have gone through since Jim Leyland became manager in 2006. Joel Zumaya's annual injury was the big downer of early spring but Detroit had enough arms in camp to compensate. The rotation seems solid, the back end of the bullpen looks strong and the Tigers should have a better offense than a year ago.
1. RHP Justin Verlander
2. RHP Max Scherzer
3. RHP Rick Porcello
4. LHP Phil Coke
5. RHP Brad Penny
Verlander and Scherzer could rank among baseball's best 1-2 combos. Verlander has been crowding 20 wins since he came to the majors and could break through with a good April while Scherzer was dominating the last four months after a trip to the minors to straighten out his mechanics.
This is a high-ceiling group but not without question marks. Porcello has worked hard to solidify his mix of pitches while Coke has shown this spring he can make a successful return to starting. Penny looks to be a positive addition -- if he can stay healthy.
Coke won't make his debut as a starter until April 9 due to early off days. Penny will start the second game of the season, perhaps because Coke is used to bullpen duties.
RHP Jose Valverde
RHP Joaquin Benoit
RHP Ryan Perry
LHP Daniel Schlereth
LHP Brad Thomas
RHP Enrique Gonzalez
RHP Bryan Villarreal
The right-handed power arms at the back end of the bullpen have good splits against both right- and left-handed hitting. The addition of Benoit, given a three-year contract as a free agent, means Valverde won't have to be overworked and that could help him avoid the second-half breakdown he had last summer.
A hamstring strain cost Schlereth a week early in camp, but he bounced back strong the last two weeks to lock up a spot. Veteran Gonzalez, a non-roster invitee, had a strong spring training and nailed down the vacant role of pitching multiple innings of long relief. Gonzalez pitched for the Tigers last year but was cut and re-signed a minor league deal.
Villarreal, added to the roster during the winter, showed a nice fastball/slider combination with a so-so changeup. He's been a starter in the minors but was expected to relieve when he got to the majors.
1. CF Austin Jackson
2. 2B Will Rhymes
3. RF Magglio Ordonez
4. 1B Miguel Cabrera
5. DH Victor Martinez
6. LF Ryan Raburn
7. SS Jhonny Peralta
8. 3B Brandon Inge
9. C Alex Avila
Rhymes hit .300 and brought energy to the team as an emergency call-up last season, and that enabled him to beat out Scott Sizemore at second base. 2B Carlos Guillen will start when he comes off the disabled list, according to manager Jim Leyland. Guillen is not fully recovered from September microfracture knee surgery and had not played an exhibition game entering the last few days of spring training.
Rhymes will hit second to break up a string of right-handed hitters and because he has the speed to beat out bunts and infield groundballs.
Avila hit better the last two months after getting regular playing time and seemed more confident this spring knowing his rookie year was history and that he'll get most of the playing time. Detroit's pitchers have praised Martinez behind the plate so there should be no problems when he catches.
There could be a problem when Avila is removed for a pinch hitter or runner, however, since that would cost the DH when Martinez goes behind the plate and a pitcher is inserted into the batting order.
UT Don Kelly
INF Ramon Santiago
OF Casper Wells
OF Brennan Boesch
Kelly is the nominal emergency catcher despite his lack of experience as a pro at the position but his strength is his ability to play all the infield and outfield positions with some reliability plus some surprising bat strength. Santiago is the top alternative at the middle infield spots; the switch hitter is a solid fill-in for short periods of time.
Boesch and Wells did well in spots as rookie subs for injured regulars last season, and that gave them an edge on challengers. Boesch can fill in when RF Magglio Ordonez needs a day off. His weakness, offering at pitches out of the strike zone, could be minimized by using him to pinch-hit when pitchers have to throw him strikes.
Wells will probably DH against left-handed pitching and combine with Kelly as late-inning defensive subs at the corner outfield spots. They both can play center field when Austin Jackson needs a break.
--RHP Joel Zumaya (right elbow surgery in July 2010) experienced pain in the elbow during his Feb. 27 spring debut and hasn't pitched since. He went on the 15-day disabled list March 30, and he was scheduled to visit Dr. James Andrews on April 4.
--2B Carlos Guillen (left knee microfracture surgery in September 2010) went on the 15-day disabled list March 30. He will remain at the team's Florida camp to rehab, and it's unclear when he will make his season debut.
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