TAMPA, Fla. -- Tigers manager Jim Leyland is referring to the open positional spot on the Opening Day roster as the 25th man, but that doesn't mean he isn't placing some importance on it. It's a tough decision, and to hear Leyland discuss it, it's not an either-or choice between Clete Thomas and Andy Dirks, either.
"Most people are talking about two guys," Leyland said on Sunday morning, before a split Tigers squad played the Yankees to a 1-1 tie in 10 innings. "There's definitely more than two guys, I can promise you this."
That was all but a declaration that the Tigers could go with an infielder for their last positional spot.
The one other outfielder in camp, Quintin Berry, has made an impression as a non-roster invitee. He entered Sunday with a .391 average and seven RBIs, most of them on his grand slam Friday against the Pirates, and made a tremendous running catch against the left-field fence on Sunday against the Yankees. He followed that up with a sensational all-out diving grab in the ninth to send the game into extra innings.
There are guys beyond Berry, Leyland suggested.
"I could take four or five 25th players right now," Leyland said. "I could go with any of them and be comfortable."
That apparently includes infielders. Danny Worth has drawn praise from Leyland, who said that Worth is Major League-ready defensively. Audy Ciriaco remains in camp, as does Argenis Diaz. Ryan Strieby has drawn raves from Leyland, but his playing time has been extremely limited. Sunday's game against New York marked his first start in nearly two weeks.
If Worth is one of the aforementioned four or five, it would suggest that Brandon Inge is in a strong position to make the roster.
"I know I can go a lot of different ways with my 25th player and be very comfortable," Leyland said. "That's not something that's really going to eat at me."
About the only thing Leyland guaranteed is that the last positional player won't be a catcher.
"I've got four catchers -- two emergency, and two catchers," Leyland said.
The two emergency catchers, Leyland said, are Don Kelly and Inge.
Verlander's rest in April a potential puzzle
TAMPA, Fla. -- Tigers manager Jim Leyland said the order of his starting rotation is set for the first month of the season. He didn't reveal the order, but he hinted that it might involve much extra rest for ace Justin Verlander coming out of his Opening Day start on April 5 against the Red Sox.
Leyland said he set up Verlander's starts according to the right-hander's preferences. The skipper didn't say how he planned it, or what he means, but Verlander is known as a creature of habit who doesn't like extra days between starts during the season because it throws him off that routine.
The tricky part of that is the pair of off-days in the Tigers' opening-week schedule -- one of them right after Opening Day, the other three days later. To start Verlander on his regular four days' rest after Opening Day would involve starting him for the fourth game of the season, opening the series against the Tampa Bay Rays.
With the off-days, the Tigers don't need a fifth starter until April 14, the eighth game of the season. Whether that's when they use that starter remains to be seen.
No pain after Turner's bullpen session
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Tigers right-hander Jacob Turner, who hasn't pitched since March 12 because of tendinitis in his pitching shoulder, took a giant step toward returning to action when he threw a pain-free bullpen session on Sunday at Joker Marchant Stadium.
"He threw 45 pitches with no problem -- we're very pleased," said pitching coach Jeff Jones, who added that Turner used his entire repertoire.
Turner -- the No. 15 prospect in baseball, according to MLB.com -- is expected to take two days off and then pitch in a game on Wednesday. Jones said he isn't sure whether Turner will appear in the Tigers' Major League game against the Cardinals at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter or in a Minor League game.
On Friday, manager Jim Leyland told reporters he was pleased with Turner's progress, but that it's "very unlikely" the right-hander will have time to build up sufficient arm strength to be available by Opening Day.
Strieby making most of limited time in field
TAMPA, Fla. -- Tigers infielder Ryan Strieby went almost two weeks between starts this spring, but he certainly had no problem being visible on Sunday against the Yankees.
From his scoop to dig out Danny Worth's three-hopper of a throw across the infield to his reach to turn Duane Below's off-balance throw into an out, the 6-foot-6 Strieby looked good in the field. He also added a second-inning single off right-hander Michael Pineda.
"I had some action over there," Strieby said. "Those are all plays I expect to make on a regular basis -- nothing spectacular. But Danny's play was an unbelievable play. You can't expect him to make a good throw on that when he dives, full extension, tries to get up and throws as quick as he can. That's like a two-hopper over there. Below's [play], too, he made a good play getting over there. If he doesn't get over there, that's probably a hit."
It was a good day for Strieby, who's trying to make the best of his extra time in camp.
"It's definitely better on this side of the street," Strieby said.
Lesser-known relievers not so to Leyland
TAMPA, Fla. -- While Tigers manager Jim Leyland has fielded questions almost daily about his fifth-starter competition, he argued Sunday that he's more worried about his bullpen opening. It's not just about finding an able arm, he said, but finding the right fit for the rest of his relief corps.
It's deceptively difficult, Leyland suggested, and it doesn't always involve the most obvious pitcher.
"I'm a big bullpen guy," Leyland said. The makeup of your bullpen, how it looks and [setting up] different looks and all that stuff is very important. If you look at 2006 -- [Joel] Zumaya, [Fernando] Rodney and Todd Jones -- they got most of the credit, and rightfully so. But if you remember that year, Jason Grilli was a huge pitcher for us that year. He saved our bullpen on several occasions -- not only saved the bullpen, but he held the other team to one run in three innings or something, and we came back and won games.
"That's so much more important than people think it is. Everybody seems to be making a huge deal out of this other stuff, but to me, that is a huge piece of this club."
Leyland's two primary right-handed relief candidates were pitching in the game he was watching on Sunday against the Yankees. Brayan Villarreal and Luis Marte both pitched shutout innings. Villarreal hit two batters and walked another, but he also induced a double-play grounder.
"Villarreal was kind of rushing, champing at the bit, throwing hard but not as accurate today," Leyland said. "And Marte was mixing pitches and throwing with a little bit more pitchability."
Tigers value versatility Kelly brings
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Every player would like to be a star, but every team needs somebody who can fill a variety of roles. Don Kelly does just that for the Tigers.
"I call him 'The Hit Man' -- he makes things happen," said hitting coach Lloyd McClendon, who ran Detroit's split squad 6-3 win over the Phillies at Joker Marchant Stadium on Sunday, while manager Jim Leyland was with the rest of the team in Tampa for a 1-1 tie with the Yankees.
"He's a ballplayer," McClendon said. "He does a lot of good things. I know I can speak for skip in this respect. He's a manager's delight. You know that he's going to show up every day and give you everything he's got.
"That [versatile] guy's really important -- the guy who can play a lot of different positions and play them well, and swing the bat on top of it. That's a very important thing to have. And, in his case, he's a left-handed hitter, which makes it even better for us."
Kelly plays first and third base, as well as the outfield. His sixth-inning triple against Philadelphia on Sunday drove in the tying run.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.