Tigers send Oliver to Toledo, narrowing the 5th starter race to two
Oliver, who'd seemed to overcome some of his control demons that plagued him last season — at both the big-league level and at Triple-A Toledo — earlier this spring, put back-to-back shaky outings together in his last two Grapefruit League starts.
"Nobody's down on Andy Oliver. We just didn't feel like, at this time, he was the guy," Tigers manager Jim Leyland told reporters Thursday, as MLive's Chris Iott passed along on Twitter.
At this point, it looks like it'll either be Smyly or Below heading north with the team to start the season. Smyly, who threw well in Wednesday's start against the Cardinals in Jupiter, Fla., is scheduled for one more spring start on Monday. Below is scheduled to pitch Friday.
But it could be both — or neither. General manager Dave Dombrowski could still decide to go outside the organization for a starter — "My general manager has a tendency to surprise you," manager Jim Leyland said, after refusing to rule out the possibility that the Tigers would look for an external solution — or the Tigers could take both north, with one — Below, almost assuredly — in the bullpen as a long reliever.
And there's this to factor in, as well. The Tigers won't need a fifth starter right off the bat, given the number of off (weather) days built in to the first few series. Last year's fifth starter, Phil Coke, did not start his first game until April 9, making two relief appearances in the season-opening series in New York.
So what would Leyland like to have happen, ideally?
"I gave you enough hints through the course of the spring what I’d ideally like to have ... but, it doesn’t mean it’s going to play out that way," Leyland said, in response to verbal fishing expeditions by reporters over the weekend. "When you have four or five right-handed starters, you would probably like someone to pitch long from the left side. But it doesn’t mean you have him. That doesn’t mean that’s going to be the decision. So don’t mark that down. Could it be? It could be. But ..."
While the Tigers still have a decision to make between the more experienced, veteran Below — who started twice in 14 MLB appearances with the Tigers last season — and the inexperienced but composed Smyly — who did not pitch above Double-A in his first professional season last year — there is an upshot to the whole situation.
The Toledo rotation (as pointed out by Mud Hens beat writer John Wagner) will be stacked with former candidates for the fifth starter job: Oliver, Jacob Turner, Adam Wilk and Casey Crosby.