Detroit Tigers Inside Pitch

Why has Roman Colon been unable to gain any ground in the battle for the fifth and final rotation spot, plus, which non-roster invitees are showing well, and which need to be showing better?

It's going to be hard for right-hander Roman Colon to gain ground in a race where he keeps staying in place.

Colon, one of a handful of candidates for the vacant fifth spot in Detroit's starting rotation, turned in a so-so outing Tuesday in his second appearance of the season.

Colon worked three innings, but gave up five hits including a two-run home run. He kept falling behind hitters and it was admirable he worked out of jams in the first two scoreless innings. But he gave up a long two-run home run in the third to Travis Hafner of Cleveland, someone he'll have to get out in the regular season.

It's early to do any handicapping in the race for the fifth starter, but Colon started out behind right-hander Justin Verlander and will have to stand out in order to pass him.

Verlander, for his part, starts at home Wednesday against Atlanta. He was ordinary in his first spring game, but the job appeared to be his to lose entering the spring.

--LHP Mike Maroth did not start Tuesday as scheduled because of a sore left elbow.

"He's all right," manager Jim Leyland said, "we're just being cautious. After his last start, he was just a little more tender than normal. I don't think it's anything significant."

The Tigers figure it's better to be on the safe side at this point in the spring, so they had RHP Roman Colon, who was scheduled to pitch second, start against Cleveland instead.

--RHP Roman Colon wasn't especially impressive Tuesday in his bid to capture the open spot in the Detroit starting rotation.

Colon worked three innings but gave up a long two-run home run to the Indians' Travis Hafner in the third inning.

Colon gave up five hits but stranded five runners while keeping Cleveland off the scoreboard in the first two innings. He was behind hitters too often and wasn't overly sharp with his command.

It was a so-so outing for someone who needs to dominate to win the job.

--1B/DH Josh Phelps, a non-roster invitee with major league experience, cracked his second home run of the spring Tuesday for Detroit. He also had two walks.

Phelps has driven in five runs and looked authoritative at the plate, but he doesn't figure to make Detroit's roster unless something happens to someone ahead of him in the pecking order.

--OF Brent Clevlen is doing just what he needs to keep his name on the list of Detroit prospects for the future.

Clevlen, projected as a right fielder, belted a double and a home run and drove in two runs Tuesday. He has hit two home runs thus far in spring training and is one of several young players taking advantage of the absence of stars taking part in the World Baseball Classic.

Clevlen hit his home run to the opposite field, which is how he needs to hit to be successful. He is projected to start the year at Double-A Erie, with a good season putting him in line for a look in September or in 2007. He was MVP of the high Class A Florida State League last year after stumbling in the same league the previous season.

--RHP Matt Mantei hurt himself two ways Tuesday.

Mantei, a non-roster invitee with a history of injury he needs to overcome, showed a good live fastball Tuesday but was only able to get one out in a projected inning of work.

He left in the top of the ninth with one out and the bases loaded when he grabbed his side after ball four forced in a run on a 3-2 curve to Ryan Garko.

Mantei walked three batters on full-count curves after allowing a bloop single to open the inning. He had one strikeout.

Mantei pitched well for Boston in 2005 but only worked half the season, as he needed ankle surgery at mid-year.

--LHP Jamie Walker looked sharp in his one inning Tuesday against Cleveland.

Walker, the lone left-hander in the Detroit bullpen at this point, struck out the side in the eighth.

The Tigers hope to get him some help so they can spot him more and increase his effectiveness, which hasn't been bad anyway.

--RHP Justin Verlander starts Wednesday against Atlanta in his second appearance of the spring.

Verlander admitted to nervousness in his first assignment, and the Tigers just want him to settle down in his second start and throw strikes.

Detroit needs a fifth starter for its rotation, and Verlander, a second-year pro, has the inside edge after rising from Class A to the majors last season.

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