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A sometimes-irreverent look at Detroit's Boys of Summer, the Tigers, as they try to defend their three straight American League Central titles.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Porcello wins 5th starter job over Smyly


Rick Porcello took the challenge to his job personally.

Considered “expendable” by many after the Detroit Tigers re-signed Anibal Sanchez, giving them six MLB-caliber starting pitchers, Porcello went out and pitched like his job was on the line this spring.

In the process, he won the battle with second-year lefty Drew Smyly to be the team’s fifth starter. Tigers manager Jim Leyland announced the decision Tuesday.

“Please don’t call Porcello the fifth starter,” Leyland told reporters in Lakeland, Fla. “He’s one of our five starters.”

And Smyly, who ended last season in the bullpen after the acquisition of Sanchez at the deadline, and will start this season in the same spot, is not.

Not at the moment, anyway, although Leyland cautioned he could be sent out to Toledo at some point during the season, to get some starts in order to remain stretched out, in case he’s ever needed, should one of the first five falter.

While Porcello might not end up fifth in the rotation — Leyland has not decided in what order the other four starters will slot in, after Opening Day starter Justin Verlander — it was clear there was seen to be a drop-off after the top four of Verlander, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister and Sanchez.

Coming off one of the shakiest seasons of his four in the big leagues, Porcello’s experience was not enough to automatically ensure him of the spot over Smyly, who impressed in his 2012 debut. That left it up to a spring training showdown.

Neither pitcher lost the competition, though.

Porcello merely went out and won it.

The 24-year-old sinkerballer went 4-1 with a 3.00 ERA in 24 innings of work over six starts this spring, posting a gaudy 21-0 strikeout-to-walk ratio (his career K/BB ratio is 2.43).

Smyly was almost as good, going 4-0 with a 3.38 ERA in 21 1/3 innings of work over six starts, striking out 17 and walking three.

But, as with every other move they’ve made with Smyly, he appeared nonplussed by the decision.

“I knew we both pitched great. They know what they’ve got with Rick. He started for them for four years. He deserves it,” Smyly told Fox Sports Detroit’s Dana Wakiji. “I’m just pumped to be on the team from the beginning. I just wanted to make it, help contribute whatever I can for this team to win. ... I still see myself as a major league starter. I want to be a starter, but it just shows how much talent we have on this team.”

Despite the constant barrage of questions, Porcello was just as gracious, for the most part saying all the right things. He did clearly tire of the constant trade speculation, though, putting a cap on the questions midway through spring camp.

“I’m not talking about trades anymore. If you guys want to ask me about the game, and what’s going on, on the field, I’ll discuss that, as long as you guys want,” he said two weeks ago. “I’m not talking about trades or the fifth rotation spot anymore.”

Now, it’s no longer a question.

It resolved one of the only three major question marks the Tigers had coming into spring training.

The other two major dilemmas were who would be the new closer, and who would be the right-handed-hitting complement to Andy Dirks in left field?

While the former question will linger — maybe into the season — there was at least some clarity gained on the latter.

In other moves announced Tuesday, the Tigers placed Avisail Garcia (heel) on the 15-day disabled list to start the season. The move is retroactive to March 22, when he first hurt his foot.

Pitchers Luke Putkonen and Jose Alvarez were sent to minor league camp, along with catcher Brad Davis and Kevin Russo, leaving the Tigers just five over the Opening Day roster number of 25. Scheduled to start Tuesday’s game, starting pitcher Shawn Hill is expected to be one of the next transactions.

All those moves mean that, barring an unforeseen trade, non-roster invitee Matt Tuiasosopo will make the Opening Day squad, as a right-handed bat off the bench. After starting the spring slowly, he’s hitting .455 with five doubles, four homers and nine RBI over his last 15 games.

“If ever there was a guy who deserves a shot, based on how he’s performed, and gone about his business, it’s him,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland told reporters, as tweeted by The Detroit News’ Tom Gage.

Don Kelly, Danny Worth and Ramon Santiago are still battling for the final spot on the bench.

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