It was a problem-solving spring for the Tigers. Signing free agent LF Johnny Damon shored up the top of Detroit's batting order, and RF Magglio Ordonez had a solid spring to appear as though his problems in the first half of last season were behind him. The Tigers had two open rotation spots, and they chose LHP Dontrelle Willis and RHP Jeremy Bonderman, dealing LHP Nate Robertson to the Marlins. Adding RHP Jose Valverde solidified the back end of the bullpen, and rookies CF Austin Jackson and 2B Scott Sizemore seemed to be positive additions. Still, a lot of things will have to go right and not much go wrong for this team to contend.
1. RHP Justin Verlander
2. RHP Rick Porcello
3. RHP Max Scherzer
4. RHP Jeremy Bonderman
5. LHP Dontrelle Willis
ROTATION ANALYSIS: Three-way competition for the final two spots was solved when LHP Nate Robertson was traded to Florida. That left Willis as the lone lefty in the rotation, a gamble despite his good spring because he's won just once in two seasons while battling an anxiety disorder.
Bonderman's fastball isn't what it was before his two shoulder surgeries two years ago, but his slider has returned and he's working on a good-looking split-finger.
Should something happen to one of the five, replacements are available in the bullpen (RHP Eddie Bonine) and Toledo (RHP Armando Galarraga).
RHP Jose Valverde (closer)
RHP Joel Zumaya
LHP Phil Coke
RHP Ryan Perry
RHP Eddie Bonine
LHP Brad Thomas
LHP Fu-Te Ni
BULLPEN ANALYSIS: Very reliable RHP Zach Miner and LHP Bobby Seay are expected to open the season on the disabled list and promising youngster LHP Daniel Schlereth in the minors, solving a number problems Detroit faced at the start of spring training.
Thomas showed a good-enough fastball and a decent curve; he was signed to a major league contract after two seasons of Korean ball. Coke, obtained in an offseason trade from the Yankees, appears up to filling Seay's late-inning role. Zumaya had a rough patch in mid-spring but finished strong after some mechanical corrections.
Free agent signee Valverde helps Detroit fill the void at the end of the bullpen created by the loss of free agent setup man Brandon Lyon and closer Fernando Rodney.
1. CF Austin Jackson
2. LF Johnny Damon
3. RF Magglio Ordonez
4. 1B Miguel Cabrera
5. DH Carlos Guillen
6. 3B Brandon Inge
7. C Gerald Laird
8. 2B Scott Sizemore
9. SS Adam Everett/Ramon Santiago
LINEUP ANALYSIS: Jackson showed more patience and strike-zone knowledge in the spring than he did in the minors, but it remained to be seen if that would carry over. His defense had been as good as advertised. Fellow rookie 2B Scott Sizemore should be capable of living up to management's expectations that he would be a solid replacement for departed 2B Placido Polanco.
All questions about regulars coming off injury or bad seasons were answered in the affirmative. 3B Brandon Inge was eased into action after undergoing offseason surgery on both knees, and it seemed to work. But the presence of so many aged regulars means plenty of playing time for the reserves, especially UT Ryan Raburn.
Manager Jim Leyland likes to tinker with his lineup to take advantage of hot hands and matchups, but he generally doesn't mess with the middle of the order unless necessary.
C Alex Avila
UT Ryan Raburn
IF Ramon Santiago
UT Don Kelly
RESERVE ANALYSIS: UT Don Kelly had an excellent spring and nudged OF Clete Thomas back to the minors. Kelly gives the team help at multiple infield and outfield positions and bats left-handed (like Thomas).
Avila, a rookie, hit well this spring, and it was deemed his left-handed power bat would help Detroit more than C Robinzon Diaz could. Overlooked factor: Diaz would have had to be added to the roster to go north with the team, necessitating cutting a promising youngster.
Raburn emerged as a potent bat as a part-time player last year, and manager Jim Leyland will be challenged to get him in the lineup. But he'll likely rotate as a day off for the corner outfielders and DH.
ROOKIE WATCH: CF Austin Jackson had a solid two-way spring and will get at least a month or two to establish himself as the Tigers' leadoff batter. He's a superior defender, and he had shown a better eye at the plate this spring than his past performance indicated. 2B Scott Sizemore has worked hard to improve his defense, and that part of his game is ahead of his offense so far, but scouts are almost unanimous in the belief he will be a solid to above-average overall player. RHP Jacob Turner, the Tigers' first-round draft pick out of high school last June, was so impressive in his pro debut this spring there's talk he could pull a Rick Porcello and be in the majors after just one minor league season. Several minor league pitchers are knocking on the bullpen door, particularly RHP Robbie Weinhardt.
--LHP Bobby Seay (left shoulder soreness) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to March 26. He is expected to miss six weeks.
--RHP Zach Miner (right elbow) was shut down in the middle of spring training and placed on the disabled list. There was still soreness when the team broke camp, and it appeared it would be at least mid-April before he could return.
--3B Brandon Inge (patellar tendon surgery on both knees) had been playing more or less regularly since mid-March. He is expected to be the full-time starter when the season begins.
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