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A sometimes-irreverent look at Detroit's Boys of Summer, the Tigers, as they try to return to the top of the American League Central.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Below joins the rotation — for now

Duane Below can only worry about the here and now.

On April 1, he was informed he’d lost the battle for the fifth starter role, and was sent to Toledo — for now, at least.

Thirty-six hours later, he was told, because of the hamstring injury to Luis Marte, he’d be returning to the Tigers, and joining the bullpen — for now, at least.

Once in the big-league pen, in the lefty long relief role that manager Jim Leyland had coveted, Below pitched the way he’d wanted to in spring training — not allowing an earned run in 12 innings of relief work over five appearances — but was told he’d be staying in the bullpen.

You guessed it, for now, at least.

“He’s done really well. He’s been just what the doctor ordered, so far,” Leyland admitted early last week, only getting terse when the follow-up question was about the possibility of putting Below in the rotation.

“It won’t be here, right now. Just because he’s done good in the bullpen everyone wants to know if I’m going to start him, and the answer is no. Emphatically, no. Right now.

“Doesn’t mean he can’t be a starting pitcher in the big leagues, and here at some point, but the answer to that right now is ‘No.’ ”

Even Below was OK with that.

“Right now, I’m not thinking about that (starting). I’m comfortable in the bullpen, learning things — especially when I’m able to talk to guys that have from starter to reliever to back to starter. It’s just a matter of getting a feel for everything, learning the position, learning my role,” Below said early last week.

“That’s the biggest thing for me right now, is just staying ready on a day-to-day basis, knowing, ‘Oh, I could pitch today.’ ‘Oh, not today? Maybe tomorrow.’ Just make sure that I’m ready, so that when I do come in, I throw strikes.”

And now, that’s all changed.

After fellow rookie Adam Wilk spluttered out in his third start of the season in place of the injured Doug Fister (left side strain), the Tigers announced Friday they planned on inserting Below into the rotation until Fister returned, acknowledging that Below was the best option.

And, yes, that’s for now.

The Tigers announced Sunday that Fister would be making would be making a rehabilitation start at Triple-A Toledo, finally ready to take the next step toward coming back to the rotation after a pair of successful bullpen sessions in the last four days.

Barring another setback, Fister — who has thrown just 14 total innings of game action since March 23rd, including 3 2/3 innings on April 7, his only start of the regular season — could be back in the rotation as early as May 7 or 8. Depending on how the Tigers stack their rotation around an off day on May 3, that might mean that Below only gets one start (his third in the big leagues) before Fister comes back.

So he’s in the rotation for now.


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