Tigers News & Notes: 1/19

Typically every year, the Tigers head into spring training with a number of questions about the roster, especially the rotation. However, unlike past season's, could the rotation already be set, still a month before pitchers and catchers are set to report? Plus, the roster report.

It looks as if the Tigers will begin spring training planning to have three left-handed pitchers in their starting rotation.

A trio of southpaws formed the bulk of the Tigers' starting staff last July and August, and it worked out well.

LHP Mike Maroth opened 2004 as Detroit's second most experienced starter -- with all of two seasons -- and Nate Robertson was a second lefty.

They were joined at midseason by Wilfredo Ledezma, who was shut down the better part of September after reaching an organization-imposed innings limit.

Those three are expected to form 60 percent of Detroit's rotation when pitchers report to spring training in one month. Ledezma went 4-3 with a 4.39 ERA in 15 games (eight starts), Robertson was 12-10 with a 4.90 ERA in 34 games, and Maroth was 11-13 with a 4.31 ERA in 33 starts.

Management doesn't fear throwing three lefties at the league's right-handed batters because stylistically there's just enough difference between them to keep hitters from getting zoned in.

The Tigers' two right-handers are Jeremy Bonderman, who has two full seasons of major league experience behind him and will be able to vote in an election for the first time this fall.

The other is the staff veteran, Jason Johnson, who began the season well but endured his third straight poor second half. He was supposed to be the staff ace, but that pressure is off him now. He might only be the third- or fourth-best pitcher on the staff.

Detroit wanted to bring in an experienced starter (RHP Carl Pavano or RHP Derek Lowe were the top choices) to front the rotation and show the promising younger pitchers how veterans approach their craft.

It hasn't happened yet, but that doesn't mean it won't.

--CF Alexis Gomez was outrighted to Triple-A Toledo by Detroit on Friday (Jan. 14).

The Tigers had designated Gomez for assignment after acquiring C Vance Wilson from the New York Mets on Jan. 6.

Gomez was claimed by Detroit off waivers from Kansas City in late September. He hit .276 in 13 games with the Royals and batted .251 in 109 Triple-A contests.

Gomez will be invited to participate in spring training with Detroit.

--Alex Sanchez will be Detroit's center fielder for the start of the 2005 season.

After exploring various avenues to improve center-field defense this season, the Tigers apparently will work with Sanchez about bearing down more on the weaker phase of his game.

"We talk about improvement in center -- I guess we can improve at a lot of different positions," said Dave Dombrowski, Detroit's president and general manager. "But we're not actively looking to do anything at this point.

"You're always open-minded, but we've pretty much (decided) that Alex Sanchez will be our center fielder going into spring training."

That doesn't mean Detroit wouldn't make a move if the opportunity presents itself. It just means most doors are closed.

Dombrowski was looking for a solid veteran free agent third baseman, which would have let him switch Brandon Inge to center, but was shut out of that market. Efforts to land a center fielder also failed, so the Tigers re-signed Sanchez.

--The Tigers' cable outlet, Fox Sports Network, will telecast four spring training games from Florida, each against one of last year's playoff entrants.

Detroit's first such contest will be a March 17 night game at Tampa against the New York Yankees, followed by a March 20 home Sunday afternoon game against the National League champion St. Louis Cardinals and a March 25 home night game against the Houston Astros.

The final telecast comes March 29 at Orlando against the Atlanta Braves, also a night contest.

Announcers for all games are Mario Impemba and former major league outfielder Rod Allen.

--Detroit reached a first last season -- 10 players with at least 100 hits. The leader was C Ivan Rodriguez with 176. Lowest were CF Alex Sanchez with 107 and DH Dmitri Young with 106.

In between were SS Carlos Guillenn (166), 2B Omar Infante (133), OF Craig Monroe (131), LF Rondell White (121), UT Brandon Inge (117), 1B Carlos Pena (116) and RF Bobby Higginson (110).

BY THE NUMBERS: 2 -- Detroit pitchers with more than 150 strikeouts for the season, the first time the Tigers have had two pitchers fan that many batters in a year since 1974 (LHP Mickey Lolich and RHP Joe Coleman). RHP Jeremy Bonderman fanned 168 and LHP Nate Robertson struck out 155 for the Tigers last season.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't think that ever changes, to be honest with you. At least in the market that we're in. That's how it works." -- Tigers manager Alan Trammell on why Detroit has to rely on developing its own players and not depend on the whims of the free agent market.

Detroit has added three players, two of them backups, in its drive to improve for 2005. INF Ramon Martinez was signed to complement INF Jason Smith as reserves, and backup C Vance Wilson was obtained in a deal with the New York Mets. Closer RHP Troy Percival was the Tigers' marquee free-agent signee. Adding Wilson will let Detroit keep Brandon Inge on third base while giving manager Alan Trammell a competent catcher to give C Ivan Rodriguez 1-2 days of rest per week. The Tigers are still shopping for a significant outfield upgrade and could add a solid veteran starter, which would give it depth to make a deal in that direction.

ARRIVALS: C Vance Wilson (trade with New York Mets), INF Ramon Martinez (free agent, signed from Chicago Cubs), RHP Troy Percival (free agent, signed from Anaheim), RHP Colby Lewis (waiver claim, from Texas), OF Byron Gettis (waiver claim, from Kansas City), OF DeWayne Wise (waiver claim, from Atlanta).

DEPARTURES: CF Alexis Gomez (designated for assignment), RHP Al Levine ($100,000 buyout of club option), RHP Esteban Yan (elected free agency, club declined arbitration, signed with Anaheim).

BIGGEST NEEDS: Solid upper-tier veteran starting pitcher, second southpaw reliever, power-hitting outfielder.

MEDICAL WATCH: RHP Colby Lewis (rotator cuff surgery in mid-April) hopes to be ready to pitch in the spring. SS Carlos Guillen (right knee ACL surgery Sept. 28) will be prepped in the spring with Opening Day in mind. CF Alex Sanchez (right quadriceps) will be ready for spring training. 2B Fernando Vina (right hamstring, 2/3-torn left patella tendon) declined surgery, which was iffy as far as a recovery, and is facing the end of his career. Won't be ready for spring training or Opening Day. RHP Nate Cornejo (right shoulder labrum surgery) will be brought slowly in the spring. RHP Fernando Rodney (right elbow ligament transplant) is throwing again and hopes to be ready in spring training. RHP Chris Spurling (right elbow ligament transplant) is throwing again and hopes to compete for a job in the spring.

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