Live from Lakeland: Tigers' Pitchers Roundup

Without a doubt, the biggest question mark for the Tigers going into this season is the pitching staff, and most notably, the starting rotation. Who is impressing, and who is creating cause for concern? Read on for all the details from Lakeland.

The word 'potential' seems to be the buzzword around Tigertown, where everyone thinks this group CAN succeed, but no one is convinced just yet that they will.

A pair that certainly looks ready to fill that potential though are Jeremy Bonderman and Nate Robertson.

Bonderman has always had the makeup, stuff and attitude to be a frontline guy, but now at just 23, Bonderman may be ready to emerge as just that. His fastball and slurve are impressive, and his change-up may finally be a big league pitch.

Robertson meanwhile went through typical first year growing pains, including fatigue at the end of the season, as well as an over-reliance on his fastball when he got into trouble. Pitching coach Bob Cluck is working with Robertson on having more faith in his pitches and his fielders, which should limit his pitch counts, keeping him fresher later in the year.

Another pitcher that is looking to fill his potential is Wilfredo Ledezma. Ledezma's stuff is excellent; where he'll struggle is with his control and his confidence. Unfortunately, the Tigers need Ledezma to work through this and grow up right now, as they'll need him if they hope to compete.

Another they'll need to compete is Jason Johnson. Johnson is an extremely hard worker and has the respect of everyone, but opponents continue to hit him (and hit him hard). For the sake of the team, hope is that Johnson figures it out. But performance dictates otherwise.

Moving to the bullpen, much has been made of who will step up for the final spots in the 'pen, and who will be put out to pasture. It's still early, but already some are emerging as candidates, while others appear to be pitching their way out of a job.

Those making a case for a job are Franklyn German and Fernando Rodney. Rodney was already expected to have an inside track for a job, and once he worked past some rustiness, has looked solid.

German has especially been impressing, an important step for the youngster who is now out of options. More importantly, German looks confident on the mound, easily his biggest issue in the past couple years, as he's always possessed the tools to be an excellent end-of-the-game reliever.

One reliever expected to have the inside track on a job that hasn't quite impressed however is Gary Knotts. Knotts was being expected by many to grab hold of the team's long reliever position, especially because Knotts is out of options. But Knotts hasn't impressed, meanwhile minor league free agents Andrew Good and Jason Grilli have looked solid in their appearances. Needless to say, a position once assumed to be locked up might be more open to competition than others thought.

Finally, one last player that has spent time in the Tigers' bullpen is Chris Spurling. Unfortunately for him, he underwent Tommy John surgery last spring and is just starting to work his way back. Spurling has been impressive and looks to be ready to pick up where he left off two seasons ago, but with a stacked bullpen and a lack of openings, Spurling will likely be relegated to AAA Toledo, at least to start the year.

Overall, the Tigers have seen some pitchers show well, and others not so well. But what isn't in question is which group is going to need to answer the most questions to bring the Tigers to compete in 2005, and that's the pitching staff. Only time will tell if the group is truly ready.

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