Oliver to make debut with Tigers on Friday
Left-hander to take Porcello's turn in rotation against Braves
NEW YORK -- The Tigers will replace Rick Porcello in their rotation with another youngster, this one in his first pro season. They'll call up 22-year-old Andy Oliver to make his Major League debut against the Braves at Turner Field on Friday.
The Tigers confirmed the move on Tuesday, two days after they sent Porcello to Triple-A Toledo to work out his sinker and slider amidst a classic sophomore slump. Detroit called up reliever Jay Sborz to take Porcello's roster spot, and he'll head back to Toledo after Thursday's game against the Mets, making room for the next Tigers rookie starter.
"We felt Oliver was the best candidate at this time," manager Jim Leyland said Tuesday afternoon. "That's what the organization decided, talking with a lot of different people. We didn't see him much [in Spring Training], but he's been pitching good. He's a prospect, and we're going to start him Friday night."
All along, he's been a prospect who has shown the Tigers his potential to move quickly through the system. Still, this might've beaten their own expectations.
Oliver is 11 months older than Porcello, having pitched in college at Oklahoma State. Experience-wise, however, he actually has fewer pro starts. The Tigers drafted the left-hander in the second round last year, once he dropped down other teams' lists. Though Oliver's collegiate numbers were disappointing last spring, Detroit saw promise that he could join its ranks of talented young arms in the system.
Oliver didn't get started until the Arizona Fall League at the end of last season, but once the Tigers challenged him with an immediate assignment to Double-A out of Spring Training, Oliver took advantage. He rebounded from an up-and-down April to post a 3.12 ERA in his next 10 outings, six of them quality starts. He tossed three of those consecutively in May, scattering four runs on 16 hits over 20 1/3 innings, with four walks and 18 strikeouts.
"He's a very talented young pitcher who's got a real good arm," team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "He continues to improve his secondary pitches, throws strikes. He's worked on some things that have been good for him. He's worked on his change. He's worked on his breaking ball. He's incorporated a two-seam fastball. So he's done a lot of things to make himself better. He's a quick learner."
The announcement came on the same day Oliver was named to the U.S. roster for next month's XM All-Star Futures Game at Angel Stadium. The only way he'll be making that game now is if he's sent back to the Minors in the next few weeks. And the Tigers aren't planning on this as a spot start.
"He's very talented," Dombrowski said. "So he's in a situation where we think he can come up here and do well. The Double-A staff, about three or four weeks ago, if you had asked them the question, they probably were somewhat hesitant to say that. But they didn't feel hesitant at all at this point."
With seven home runs allowed over 77 1/3 innings heading into this week, Oliver has generally avoided the long-ball danger that befalls many young pitchers in the smaller ballparks of the Eastern League. Now he'll try to keep that going in Atlanta, where the summer heat can carry balls out.
"This kid, he's got good stuff," Dombrowski continued. "There are not many pitchers that have his quality of stuff. I mean, his fastball is way above average. He's got quality, and now he's been able to incorporate those other pitches. He's a quick learner. He's a hard worker. But it doesn't take long to know that he has quality stuff. There aren't a lot of left-handed starters in Major League Baseball who have his fastball."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.