Does the fifth starter matter? For the Tigers, it shouldn't

JUPITER, Fla. -- In January, the Tigers were concerned enough about the fifth-starter spot that they offered Roy Oswalt $10 million. They were concerned enough that when Oswalt turned that down, they put Justin Verlander on the phone with him to try to change his mind.

Wednesday, manager Jim Leyland said, "I'm not worried about the fifth starter."

Normally, when Leyland says "I'm not concerned," it means he's very concerned. In this case, though, I'll take him at his word, and here's why:

Perhaps more than any team in baseball, the Tigers can get by without a good fifth starter (and plenty of teams will open the season without good fifth starters). The Tigers have solid starters in the first four spots in the rotation (Justin Verlander, Doug Fister, Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello), they have a lineup that should score so much that they'll win games even when the starter fails, and they're in a division where they're a heavy favorite.

And, of course, the fifth starter normally isn't used in the playoffs.

The Tigers still have three candidates for fifth starter, with 22-year-old Drew Smyly looking good but not great in an audition against the Cardinals' regular lineup Wednesday. Andy Oliver (who hasn't pitched well lately) and Duane Below are the other two candidates, but Tigers people seem most excited about the 22-year-old Smyly.

"Whether he makes the team or not, he's made a wonderful impression," Leyland said Wednesday morning. "Whether he makes it or not, he looks like a classy-looking left-handed pitcher to me."

The fifth starter spot was a problem for the Tigers early in 2011, and they didn't solve it until the July 30 trade for Fister.

Perhaps they end up looking for a starter again this July, assuming they don't trade for one this week. But I'm with the people in the organization who believe they shouldn't trade for one this week, and may not need one in July, either.

On this team, the fifth starter should not decide their fate.

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