03/19/2013 6:21 PM ET
Tigers' fifth-starter role coming down to wire
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Don't expect a decision on the Tigers fifth-starter job until the end of camp. At this point, manager Jim Leyland is preparing to stretch out both Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly to the end as if they're going to start.
"We'll have six guys basically ready to throw 100 pitches," Leyland said.
That doesn't mean Leyland and Tigers brass haven't discussed the competition. So far, however, that's where it stands.
"It's going to go down to the wire," Leyland said. "We had a big meeting today, obviously, because we sent so many guys out. We had some conversations, but there's absolutely nothing -- nothing -- solved."
Fister's struggles not a concern -- yet
LAKELAND, Fla. -- While the rest of the Tigers rotation has been the focus of attention for most of camp, Doug Fister has quietly gone about his business of getting ready for the season. He wasn't coming off a stressful year of innings, he hasn't been working on a new pitch and he didn't go to the World Baseball Classic.
Now, however, his command struggles are becoming the biggest concern left out of the Tigers' starters. After giving up seven runs, two earned, on seven hits over 3 2/3 innings against the Rays on Tuesday, it's getting a little more attention.
It's not a big concern, manager Jim Leyland cautioned, but it's enough to get noticed.
"For some reason, his delivery and his release point have been all out of whack," Leyland said. "It was today, again."
Both Fister and catcher Alex Avila said his fastball command was the problem Tuesday. Fister said he feels comfortable with his changeup and curveball, and has been making progress with his cutter.
"That's the biggest thing for me -- finding the sinker consistency," Fister said, "and it's not there. It's been something that I've focused on and I'll continue to work on. It's just a feel thing. There are times when it's there and there are times when it's not, so it's just a matter of being consistent."
Fister's final pitch, which Luke Scott sent over the right-field scoreboard for a fourth-inning grand slam, fell into that category. It was supposed to sink down and away for a ground ball, but it stayed up enough for Scott to drive.
"He didn't make a bad pitch," Avila said, "but Scott put a good swing on it, and it stayed up a little bit more than I'm sure Doug wanted it to."
Whether the struggles are a rite of spring for Fister depend on how whether last spring was a change or an outlier. Fister struggled in his last spring with the Mariners in 2011, both with hit totals and run damage. His first camp with the Tigers, however, saw him go 4-0 with a 1.86 ERA, allowing 14 hits over 19 1/3 innings with five walks and 15 strikeouts.
Tuesday's damage bumped his spring totals to 17 runs, 12 earned, on 21 hits over 14 2/3 innings, with eight walks and 14 strikeouts.
"I think I'm ... on pace with where I've been in the past," Fister said, "but I'm not happy with where I'm at right now. This is frustrating. It's one of those outings you definitely learn from. Tomorrow's a new day. Yeah, it's a day off, but I'll be in here to get some work done."
Dirks day to day after crashing into wall
LAKELAND, Fla. -- As if the Tigers didn't already have enough injuries in their outfield ranks, Andy Dirks returned to the ranks of the walking wounded Tuesday with a collision into the left-field wall, bruising his right knee. He's listed as day to day, but he didn't sound overly concerned about it long-term.
"I just banged it into the wall hard," Dirks said.
The collision happened on the Rays' Jack Cust's double leading off the fourth. By the time the six-run inning ended, Dirks' knee was swelling up with discomfort, leading manager Jim Leyland to pinch-hit Don Kelly for him to start the bottom half of the fourth.
Dirks missed five games early in the spring with an intercostal strain but had been playing pretty continuously since March 1. With Quintin Berry and Avisail Garcia also out for the time being, the Tigers don't have as much depth as usual to weather injuries if they carry into Opening Day.
"I don't think it's anything," Leyland said, "but I learned a long time ago not to discount that stuff. I don't think it is, but we'll see."
Berry better, but will likely rest a bit longer
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Quintin Berry's left knee felt much better Tuesday than it did when it forced him out of the Tigers game on Sunday, allowing him to take part in a pregame workout Tuesday morning on Kaline Field behind left field at Joker Marchant Stadium. However, he was not ready to return for Tuesday's game against the Rays.
The Tigers have their final off-day of camp on Wednesday. Leyland said Berry will work out again Thursday afternoon, but that he'll probably sit out that evening's game against the Astros.
"If he's ready to go and OK to play, I'll take him to Viera [Friday to face the Nationals]," Leyland said.
• Prince Fielder gets plenty of credit when he hits against the infield shift. Credit Miguel Cabrera for running against it on Wednesday, going from first to third when Fielder grounded to third baseman Ryan Roberts, who had shifted over to shortstop. Cabrera kept running as Rays pitcher Jeremy Hellickson scrambled to try to cover the bag. Victor Martinez singled in Cabrera three pitches later. "He's one of our more instinctive players," Leyland said of Cabrera. "He always has been."
• Devon Travis won't soon forget his trek across the street from Minor League camp to serve as an extra player in Tuesday's game. The 13th-round pick from last June's First-Year Player Draft belted a two-run homer in the eighth inning off Rays reliever Brandon Gomes -- his first runs allowed all spring. Travis homered three times in 25 games for short-season Class A Connecticut last year.