Inside Pitch: Figuring Out the 'Pen

The bullpen competition heats up as the Tigers head into the home stretch of spring training. Will Edward Campusano lock down the final bullpen slot? Or will the Tigers look for more experience for the position?

The makings of a deal can be smelled on the smoke that drifts out of Detroit's spring training base. The Tigers might be the only team in baseball that has more pitchers than it knows what to do with.

And with only one publicized opening in the bullpen, well, that smells like deal-on-a-bun cooking in the warm Florida sun.

The advertised opening is for a second left-hander to complement Wilfredo Ledezma, the long man. It seems at the moment left-hander Edward Campusano, a Rule 5 choice from the Cubs via Milwaukee, has the inside track on that opening.

He's been effective, fearless and is showing major league quality pitches. But it's also possible Detroit might explore sending Chicago a player (one of those excess pitchers?) so it can begin the season with Campusano in the minors and another more veteran arm in the bullpen -- even though that's likely to be a right-hander.

Campusano has only a handful of innings at the Double-A level on his resume and a little more experience wouldn't hurt him or Detroit. Still, if he's only to pitch to a batter at a time, how much damage can be done by keeping him?

The X-factor in the decision seems to be right-hander Chad Durbin, a 29-year-old journeyman who has looked good in spring training after adding two pitches (four-seamer and cutter) to his fastball, changeup and curve last summer.

Durbin has been impressive enough that the Tigers would like to keep him, but probably not at the expense of cutting someone like right-hander Jason Grilli, who performed well for them in various roles last season.

Grilli has been spotty this spring and could use a strong outing at the end to solidify a position manager Jim Leyland said was his before he began throwing.

Right-hander Zach Miner would be optioned to the minors if Campusano makes the team. But he also could be traded, as could Grilli.

Detroit has few needs at the major league level but could use a promising young catcher in the minors to groom for the day when Ivan Rodriguez wears out. Or it could ask for a young arm in exchange for an older one.

But with an excess of pitchers in a world where everybody else wants them, that smells like a deal at some point.

--DH Gary Sheffield was given a leave of absence to attend to "personal business" that appeared to be a battle between the player and his former agent, Scott Boras.

He reportedly was attending an arbitration hearing with Boras.

"He's been excused for personal reasons and I've been in contact with Gary on a consistent basis," manager Jim Leyland said.

Sheffield returned to the lineup on March 18.

"From the outset, (Gary) has felt that the previous agent's position was without merit," Sheffield's attorney, Rufus Williams, said in an e-mail to the Detroit Free Press. "As such, he is not inclined to 'settle' as a matter of principle."

The hearing was taking place in Sheffield's hometown of Tampa. Williams said Sheffield is "grateful for the patience" the Tigers have shown.

"We have always stressed the importance of having the hearing at a time that did not interfere with his baseball work -- preseason, postseason or regular season," Williams said. "Obviously, that did not occur."

--RHP Justin Verlander is getting back the form that made him Rookie of the Year last season.

Verlander combined with five relief pitchers to one-hit Washington in a 2-0 victory on March 16, rebounding from a rocky outing against Boston in his previous start. He retired nine of 12 batters on ground balls in four hitless innings, topping out at 97 mph.

He allowed only two balls out of the infield and showed a better curve to go with location that was much better than in his previous start.

"Very, very good," manager Jim Leyland said. "He was still a little jumpy, but overall, it was very good."

Said Verlander: "A lot better. Polar opposite. My curveball really wasn't where I wanted it, but it was a big step."

--CF Cameron Maybin has impressed the Tigers with his play through the first two weeks of spring training.

Maybin hit an RBI triple in the eighth inning of a 2-0 win over Washington March 15, shooting a long line drive to the base of the right center field fence.

"He really got on top of that pitch," Leyland said. "What impressed me was the way he fouled off that tough breaking ball (on the previous pitch)."

He was hitting .400 in spot play but is destined to begin his second pro season at high Class A Lakeland.

--CF Curtis Granderson has cut down on his strikeouts with a shortened swing this spring but is anxious to see how that plays out when the games begin to count.

Granderson had only one strikeout through his first 32 spring at-bats but acknowledges the pitchers aren't really showing him their top stuff.

"I have yet to see guys who have 'out' pitches," Granderson said, "but it feels good knowing I can do it (cut down on his swing) within a game. (The new swing) actually feels good. It feels fine, especially with two strikes."

Granderson was in a slump until a four-hit game followed a mental adaptation.

"What I was doing different the last couple of days is I was just trying to feel everything and put everything in play," he said. "(The coaches) said, 'You don't have to just be a (punch hitter) up there. You still can drive the baseball. That's your game. Don't get away from that.' I was trying to guide the ball too much, not so much during the game but (during batting practice) and that would carry over into the game."

--LHP Joey Eischen still isn't fully recovered from his rotator cuff surgery last June and is out of the battle to be the second left-hander in the Detroit bullpen.

Eischen will stay behind in Lakeland and continue throwing when the Tigers break camp.

"He's not in the plans right now and he knows that," Leyland said. "If he wants to pursue it, we're more than willing to do that because he could be a factor at some point. Right now, he's not a factor.

"That guy's got seven years in the big leagues and we wanted to be very respectful of him."

Eischen, 36, has pitched for five major league teams since breaking in with Montreal in 1994, one of them Detroit, and has an 11-9 career record with a 3.67 ERA.

He is on a minor league contract with Detroit.

--LHP Edward Campusano is impressively putting together a case for Detroit to keep the Rule 5 choice as the second left-hander in manager Jim Leyland's bullpen.

Campusano worked two innings in a 4-3 Detroit loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers on March 13, allowing three hits and a run with three strikeouts.

"He won't be in there to pitch two innings to a bunch of righties as well as lefties," manager Jim Leyland said. "If he's on the team, his job will be to get the lefties out and he did a good job of that."

Detroit has urged Campusano, who took a 1.29 ERA out of the game, to use his impressive changeup to left-handed hitters. His primary pitch is a tough four-seam fastball but he's also developing his slider as he seeks to make the jump to the majors from having only a handful of Double-A innings on his resume.

"Now I get to throw the change-up," Campusano said. "Yeah, I like that situation in a game. It's like: 'Let me see what he's got.'"

--LHP Andrew Miller was one of eight players Detroit cut from major league camp March 12.

RHPs Jordan Tata and Virgil Vasquez were optioned to Triple-A Toledo while Eulogio De La Cruz and Kyle Sleeth were sent to Double-A Erie and Miller to high Class A Lakeland.

In addition, the Tigers assigned RHP Jair Jurrjens and Cs Gabe Johnson and Dusty Ryan to minor league camp.

"The good news is that we have several prospects," manager Jim Leyland said. "I'm impressed with 'em."

--RHP Chad Durbin must have been planning ahead last summer.

Durbin, out of options and attempting to force his way onto Detroit's roster, spent last summer at Triple-A Toledo learning a two-seam fastball and a cutter from pitching coach Jeff Jones, now the Tigers' bullpen coach.

Durbin limited Philadelphia to a run and one hit over three innings with a pair of strikeouts March 11 to continue a solid spring with Detroit.

"He knows how to pitch," manager Jim Leyland said of Durbin, whose spring ERA is 2.25. "He can make a pitch when he gets behind that doesn't need to be a fastball. And, he faced a real good lineup."

Durbin, 29, owns a career record of 17-30 with a 6.14 ERA. He has a nice curve and changeup but his fastball is low 90s and sometimes very hittable, which is why he tried to learn new pitches last summer.

His chances of making Detroit's staff is limited to one bullpen opening, a vacancy likely to be filled by Rule 5 LHP Edward Campusano if the southpaw continues pitching well.

But being out of options means Durbin is likely to end up on somebody's major league roster if the Tigers try to slip him through waivers at the end of the spring.

BY THE NUMBERS: 158,000 -- Fans who registered to be part of a random online drawing for 1,000 tickets to Detroit's Opening Day game April 2. It was the first time the Tigers have utilized the Internet to select fans wishing to attend their first home game of the season.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't ride a bike and I don't jog or anything else. When I think about that, I lay down until the feeling goes away." -- Manager Jim Leyland on keeping in shape.

Jim Leyland didn't know much about his roster a year ago, and his players didn't know a whole lot about their new manager. They meshed so well the Tigers were the surprise team of baseball, but the task this spring will be to keep everyone feeling good about themselves without getting too comfortable. The roster is largely set, so most of the battles will be those inner skirmishes to keep the performance level high.

ARRIVALS: DH Gary Sheffield (trade with Yankees), RHP Jose Mesa (free agent from Rockies), LHP Edward Campusano (Rule 5 choice from Cubs via Brewers).

DEPARTURES: LHP Jamie Walker (free agent, signed with Orioles), DH Matt Stairs (free agent, signed with Blue Jays), OF Alexis Gomez (free agent, signed with Rockies), RHP Troy Percival (retired).

SPRING FOCUS: Keeping everybody healthy but driving them enough so they don't get self-satisfied were manager Jim Leyland's chief objectives this spring. Another will be deciding where DH Gary Sheffield (probably third) and SS Carlos Guillen (fourth, it would appear from early spring games) will be slotted in the batting order. The roster makeup is largely set, the chief competition being for an infield spot between INFs Neifi Perez and Ramon Santiago plus a bullpen position. Rule 5 LHP Edward Campusano has a slight lead for the spot as the second lefty behind LHP Wilfredo Ledezma.

1. LHP Kenny Rogers
2. RHP Jeremy Bonderman
3. LHP Mike Maroth
4. RHP Justin Verlander
5. LHP Nate Robertson

This rotation is in order of how they pitched early last season, before Maroth was sidelined by left elbow bone chip surgery, and not indicative of a pecking order. Maroth was quick to show he's back in form and can still get hitters out, pushing aside thoughts he would not be able to recover.

Verlander logged a big increase in innings on a year-to-year basis but showed several times in the second half, when weariness set in, that he's got more than enough pitches to be effective with less-than-his-best stuff. He was flashing high 90s heat from his first spring appearance.

Rogers may start showing his age (he's 42) but should still have enough left to win 10-12 games.

This is not a staff that is in trouble.

RHP Todd Jones (closer)
RHP Fernando Rodney
RHP Joel Zumaya
RHP Jose Mesa
RHP Jason Grilli
LHP Wilfredo Ledezma
LHP Edward Campusano

Detroit is optimistic Campusano, its Rule 5 choice, has enough to help the staff now while he develops for the future. He has a slight edge over incumbent RHP Zach Miner for the open bullpen spot. The Tigers have so many viable candidates, a deal before spring training is over is likely.

Grilli can fill any role from long relief to setup, while the club is hoping the aging Mesa still has enough left to make him a viable middle relief man who can ease the load on Rodney and Zumaya.

This is the kind of bullpen Leyland likes -- experienced, versatile and effective.

1. CF Curtis Granderson
2. 2B Placido Polanco
3. DH Gary Sheffield
4. SS Carlos Guillen
5. RF Magglio Ordonez
6. C Ivan Rodriguez
7. LF Craig Monroe
8. 1B Sean Casey
9. 3B Brandon Inge

Manager Jim Leyland likes to meld a stable lineup with a hot-hitter philosophy and also likes to take advantage of matchups to get his bench into play, so you might see this batting order only 60 times or less. He's experimenting with Rodriguez as his leadoff man against tough lefties and might elect to have the switch-hitting Guillen separate Sheffield and Ordonez, both right-handed hitters, in the middle of the order. Casey might bat seventh for more balance. Leyland used Polanco as his leadoff hitter against some lefties last year with Monroe batting second.

At some point in his career, Granderson is going to be a 3-6 hitter, and it could begin to happen in the second half of this season. He also will be expected to reduce his strikeout total (league-worst 174).

C Vance Wilson
OF Marcus Thames
INF Omar Infante
INF Neifi Perez or INF Ramon Santiago

Perez took the early lead for second backup infielder and might have the edge because he can hit left-handed, which is something Detroit needs off the bench. Detroit must pay Perez $2.5 million whether it keeps him or not, which will have no bearing on whether he makes the team. Thames is being given a crash course on playing first base because the club has no backup for 1B Sean Casey.

A left-handed-hitting outfield bat instead of Thames would be preferred, but that isn't even a stone chip on manager Jim Leyland's windshield.

TOP ROOKIES: LHP Andrew Miller, Detroit's No. 1 draft choice last June, pitched in just three Class A games after signing before being vaulted to the majors for eight more relief appearances. He was optioned to high Class A Lakeland this spring to begin his grooming as a starting pitcher. CF Cameron Maybin, a No. 1 draft pick in 2005 who hit .304 in low Class A, opened his second spring in big-league camp but is scheduled to move up one notch for the beginning of his second pro year. RHP Jordan Tata made Detroit's season-starting roster last year due to injury to RHP Todd Jones but was sent back to Triple-A Toledo, where he won 10 games with a 3.84 ERA.

MEDICAL WATCH: LHP Mike Maroth (elbow surgery) returned late in the season from June bone chip removal but wasn't effective enough to make Detroit's postseason roster. His early return plus a winter of rest enabled him to return to form in exhibition games.

SS Tony Giarratano (right knee ACL surgery, right shoulder surgery) suffered a significant setback when he reported to spring training with a sore right shoulder that required surgery. It was the fourth consecutive season Giarratano has been hurt, slowing his progress. His return date is uncertain.

RHP Roman Colon (neck disc surgery) has resumed light throwing but will open the season on the disabled list and won't pitch in a game until maybe May.

RHP Craig Dingman (right arterial shoulder surgery) felt good throwing before spring training began but suffered a mild setback as camp started when his shoulder became numb. An examination showed the problem was caused by sleeping wrong, and he returned to throwing after a week off.

OF/1B Marcus Thames (sore knee) missed nearly a week's worth of spring games before returning to action. He did not appear to be affected by the knee or the layoff upon his return to action.

LF Craig Monroe (left knee patella) hurt his knee attempting a leaping catch in a March 9 game and missed several days of action. The knee may bother him periodically throughout the season.

LHP Joey Eischen (rotator cuff surgery last June) will remain in camp when spring training is over to continue strengthening his shoulder and throwing. Eischen was roughed up in his few spring appearances and is not ready to pitch in the majors at this time. He is on a minor league contract.

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