By: RICKY LINDSAY, STAFF REPORTER
The Detroit Tigers entered spring training last month with something most teams would covet; a surplus of starting pitching. The team also has an opening at closer, making pitching a hot topic during spring training.
Led by Justin Verlander, the Tigers starters have been dominant all spring, leading all teams with a 2.28 ERA, 41 strikeouts, and a 0.92 WHIP. Tigers starters are second in innings pitched (43.1), tied for third in runs allowed (12), and third in batting average against (.204).
Verlander has been dominant in three spring training games, totaling nine innings pitched. He’s allowed just one run off three hits while striking out eight batters.
Anibal Sanchez, Max Scherzer, and Drew Smyly are the three remaining Tigers starters that have yet to allow a run this spring.
Sanchez, who pitched for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic, has thrown five shutout innings this spring while surrendering seven hits in the process.
Scherzer has thrown four and two-thirds innings without allowing a hit this spring. He’s struck out seven while allowing three walks against 17 batters.
Smyly is locked in a competition with Rick Porcello for the last spot in the rotation. Smyly has struck out six and allowed only three hits in nine scoreless innings.
Although Porcello has allowed three runs, his dominance matches Smyly’s thus far. In eight innings pitched, Porcello has struck out ten batters and has already shown improvement over his 2012 season.
Doug Fister is the lone Tigers’ starter that has struggled in spring training. Fister has allowed five runs off of seven hits and two home runs in four innings pitched this spring.
With the departure of Jose Valverde to free agency, the Tigers are looking to fill the closer role for the first time since the 2009-2010 offseason.
Bruce Rondon, the reliever expected to win the closing job out of spring, has been shaky thus far, allowing three runs in four and two-thirds innings pitched. While the 22 year old routinely throws 100 mph fastballs, a lack of big league experience could be key in a decision made by Jim Leyland.
Phil Coke, who took over the closer role during the ALCS last postseason, has thrown five shutout innings, allowing only three hits while striking out five batters. The lefty could be a dark horse in the competition for closer.
A surprise closer candidate has been Porcello, who’s name has been tossed around recently. Porcello could take over the role if Smyly wins the remaining spot in the rotation.
Only 20 days separate the Tigers between a trip up north to Minneapolis for Opening Day. Whatever roster decisions the Tigers face must be made by March 31, the deadline for selecting the 25 man roster for the season opener.