Detroit Tigers pitchers could force tough roster decisions

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Shane Greene, shown during a in June 2015 game, might lose his spot in the Detroit Tigers’ starting rotation when Daniel Norris rejoins the team but could move to the bullpen. That could spell the end of Logan Kensing’s time in Detroit. (Photo by Mark Cunningham/Getty Images)

Detroit Tigers starter Mike Pelfrey pitched six innings of one-run ball Friday against the Houston Astros. Shane Greene had seven strikeouts in a solid victory Wednesday against the Pittsburgh Pirates. But one of them might lose their rotation spot soon, as Daniel Norris, who went 2-1 with a 3.68 ERA in his eight starts with Detroit last season, will make his next start for the Toledo Mud Hens—his third appearance rehabilitating from a back injury.

Based on performance and potential, one could easily argue Greene and Norris deserve rotation spots over Pelfrey, who has a 4.80 ERA since the start of 2011. But the Tigers likely will have him on a longer leash due to his two-year contract worth $16 million.

The easiest solution would be to move Greene to the bullpen, but that is quickly becoming less of a cinch. Detroit’s best reliever last season, Alex Wilson, finished his injury rehab and rejoined the team before Saturday’s game—pushing Buck Farmer out of the bullpen. Francisco RodriguezMark LoweJustin Wilson, and Drew VerHagen aren’t likely going anywhere. That leaves Kyle Ryan and Logan Kensing as potentially expendable relief pitchers. Both have had positive outings. Blaine Hardy, another bullpen force for the Tigers last year, is not far from finishing his rehab assignment, and he will likely dispel Ryan, who still has two minor league options.

That means Detroit, if it chooses to move one of its starters to the bullpen, would no longer have room for Kensing. He would need to pass through waivers to be assigned to a minor league affiliate.

It’s a good sign when your team has too many good players, and making these two difficult decisions—moving Greene in lieu of Pelfrey, then cutting Kensing—should give the Tigers the best relief corp they have had in recent memory.

Detroit Tigers set opening day roster

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Logan Kensing, shown during a spring training game, made the Detroit Tigers opening day roster, beating out Lendy Castillo for a spot in an overhauled bullpen suffering from a slew of injuries. (Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

After a couple unexciting roster battles and a few health-related setbacks, the Detroit Tigers have 25 men ready to open the regular season Tuesday night against the Miami Marlins. Read on for the rundown.

Lineup:

Ian Kinsler RH 2B
Justin Upton RH LF
Miguel Cabrera RH 1B
Victor Martinez SH DH
J.D. Martinez RH RF
Nick Castellanos RH 3B
James McCann RH C
Jose Iglesias RH SS
Anthony Gose LH CF

This won’t be the lineup Tuesday, with the Tigers traveling to a National League park. Cameron Maybin in center field should also see plenty of starts upon recovery from a fractured left wrist. But this is likely close to an everyday configuration, barring more injuries.

Last year’s opening day lineup included Rajai Davis leading off (though platoon partner Gose ended up starting more games), Yoenis Cespedes at No. 6, and Alex Avila batting eighth (though McCann soon took over primary catching duties). Cespedes has been replaced by Upton, and in Davis’ absence, Maybin will share time with Gose.

Bench:

Jarrod Saltalamacchia SH C
Andrew Romine SH IF
Tyler Collins LH OF
Mike Aviles RH UT

Maybin will likely push Collins off the roster in a few weeks.

Last year’s group predominantly consisted of some combination of Davis, Romine, Avila, Collins, Jefry Marte, Dixon Machado, Bryan Holaday, Hernan Perez, and Josh Wilson. Detroit looks to have improved its bench significantly.

Rotation:

Justin Verlander RHP
Jordan Zimmermann RHP
Anibal Sanchez RHP
Mike Pelfrey RHP
Shane Greene RHP

The race to be fifth starter was saturated with competitors after frontrunner Daniel Norris’ spine fracture but ended up being pretty anticlimactic. Matt Boyd and Buck Farmer were in the running late in spring training, but the Tigers determined the former needed more seasoning and the latter was needed in the bullpen. Greene could move to a relief role once Norris completes his injury rehabilitation process.

Last year’s rotation included David Price and Alfredo Simon, who general manager Al Avila has replaced with Zimmermann and Pelfrey. Verlander and Sanchez are back and hoping to produce healthier and more consistent seasons. Greene, Boyd, Norris, and Farmer each started games last season, while Kyle Lobstein, Randy Wolf, and Kyle Ryan completed the fifth starter contingent. Lobstein and Wolf are out now, but midseason trade acquisition and consensus top prospect Michael Fulmer adds some depth.

Bullpen:

Francisco Rodriguez RHP
Mark Lowe RHP
Justin Wilson LHP
Drew VerHagen RHP
Kyle Ryan LHP
Buck Farmer RHP
Logan Kensing RHP

No one from last year’s opening day bullpen remains, and only Rodriguez, Lowe, and Wilson were considered locks at the start of spring training. Shoulder issues for Alex Wilson and Blaine Hardy, the best relievers in Detroit last year, guaranteed a spot for VerHagen, another 2015 success story. Lendy Castillo, Bruce Rondon, and Bobby Parnell were in the mix, but initial longshots Ryan, Farmer, and Kensing (a non-roster invitee) earned the final three spots. It might not seem like an exciting group, but when Alex Wilson and Hardy are ready and Norris displaces Greene, this group could look a lot different. And say what you will about Rondon, but he and Parnell have high upside and await opportunities to prove themselves.