Tigers will use closer-by-committee
Rodney likely to get first chance; nothing certain afterward
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Fernando Rodney took the mound Wednesday donning Jim Leyland's No. 10 jersey as part of an April Fool's jersey gag the Tigers hastily organized. If Leyland has a one-run lead going into the ninth inning on Opening Day, he said, he'll be calling Rodney's number.
After that, it's far from certain.
"He could be, but it might not be just one guy. There may be somebody else that's involved at some point."
That someone else may or may not be Brandon Lyon. It could also be Joel Zumaya.
After saying a few weeks ago that he might not name anyone the closer, Leyland still hasn't. Whether it means Rodney has wrested the closer's job, time will tell. In any case, it means the expected ascension of Brandon Lyon to the job hasn't happened.
The Tigers signed Lyon to a one-year contract in January to bring him in and compete for the job. He was expected to win the role over Rodney, whom Leyland had said over the offseason had tremendous stuff but had to learn to control it and might not be a full-time closer.
An unexpected reversal happened along Lyon's way to the ninth inning. Rodney dominated early before giving up 11 earned runs on 11 hits in a four-outing stretch, covering 4 2/3 innings. Leyland cited the unsuccessful effort to hone Rodney's slider as a legitimate third pitch.
"I think Fernando Rodney's in the best shape he's been in since I've been here," Leyland said. "I think he was messing around with his slider a little bit early on. I think it got him off-kilter in the middle of the spring."
Rodney recovered from that to pitch two scoreless innings over the last three days.
"I think he's throwing the ball extremely well," Leyland said. "I think he's healthy and I think he'll have good year. His control's better. He will be and needs to be a big pitcher for us this year. And he needs to be a big pitcher for himself. He's a free agent [next winter]."
Rodney's opportunities might not come entirely in closing situations, and it might not mean that Lyon has lost a job he never officially had. But it's more of a mix than many expected.
Lyon has given up seven earned runs on 18 hits over 13 innings this spring. The bulk of that damage has come in his last four outings, starting with four straight homers against the Red Sox on March 23.
Rodney and Lyon had rough innings consecutively last Friday against the Braves, turning a 2-0 eighth-inning lead into a 3-2 loss. They've each pitched twice since.
Zumaya, meanwhile, is pitching in Minor League Spring Training games as he prepares to open the season on the DL. But his return, if and when it happens, could add to the mix.
"We may have some options," Leyland said. "We may have a guy that's two weeks away or a month from joining the team who might be a candidate. We might have Lyon. We might have [Ryan] Perry."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.