Inside Pitch: Injury Bug Helping Sort Numbers

The injury bug that has gotten a couple pitchers this past week is helping sort out the numbers game for manager Jim Leyland.

The injury bug might be biting the Tigers' pitching staff just in time to ease some pain.

Recent news that both Bobby Seay and Zach Miner might begin the season on the disabled list opens the door for the Tigers to squeeze a couple of pitchers onto their season-starting roster they might otherwise have had to shut out.

Seay has just resumed pitching after fighting bursitis/tendinitis in his left shoulder since the start of spring training, and Miner, who had been scored on in every outing, was diagnosed with right elbow tenderness.

Both, according to manager Jim Leyland, might have to start the season on the disabled list.

Leaving Seay behind in Florida to pitch camp games and sending Daniel Schlereth to the minors would still let Leyland begin the season with three lefties in his bullpen -- Phil Coke, Fu-Te Ni and Brad Thomas. Seay could then come up when he's ready. Ni has options, so he could be sent to the minors if all are pitching well.

Miner was supposed to stop throwing altogether until his soreness, which has persisted since the beginning of camp, calmed down.

Detroit could fill Miner's long relief role with right-hander Eddie Bonine, who also has an option remaining but remains viable for a rotation spot.

The Tigers optioned Armando Galarraga, a 13-game winner two seasons back but a disappointment since starting 3-0 last season, back to Triple-A to trim to three the number of candidates for two open rotation positions. Lefties Nate Robertson and Dontrelle Willis are competing with Jeremy Bonderman to back up the top three starters -- Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer.

If the three rotation candidates pitch well, the front office could decide to option Bonine to Toledo and keep one of the three as a temporary replacement for Miner in the bullpen. Of course, with pitching in short supply all over, it's possible Detroit could just deal one of the three before the season starts.

--LHP Dontrelle Willis improved his chances of earning a spot in the Tigers' rotation by allowing just one run in his first 10 spring innings. Willis battled a balky back and dinged right thumb March 18 to pitch three scoreless innings. "He's throwing it over the plate, they're putting it in play, which gives you a chance," manager Jim Leyland said. Willis is throwing with diminished velocity -- rarely above 90 mph -- but is throwing more strikes. "I'm not as young as I used to be," he said. "But I'm having fun. They like the way I'm mixing speeds. I feel I have good command of a lot of things going on right now. I just want to change speeds and throw strikes. Early contact is in my favor. Even when I won a lot of games, I'd sometimes throw an 84-mile-an-hour fastball to get a hitter out in front and hit a groundball. I'm smarter than I look. I'm not trying to strike everybody out. I'm just trying to get quality outs. I'm all for guys lining out 27 times."

--RHP Armando Galarraga was optioned to Triple-A Toledo on March 18, cutting to three the number of chief competitors for two open rotation spots. "He needs extended innings to get himself back on track, which I think he will," manager Jim Leyland said of Galarraga, who had an 11.57 ERA in four spring games. "He was in the mix and still is. It's not like he's gone forever. Rightfully so, he's disappointed because no one has jumped way out ahead. At the same time, he struggled last year and again this spring." Galarraga pitched well in 2008, winning 13 games. Last year he struggled with his command, and his ERA ballooned to 5.64.

--RHP Jacob Turner, Detroit's first-round choice in last June's draft, was optioned March 18 to low Class A West Michigan. Turner, a late signee who did not pitch last summer, worked five exhibition innings over three games without allowing an earned run. "He's a lights-out prospect who needs to go pitch. We hope it won't be too awful long before he's pitching up here," said manager Jim Leyland, who noted breaking the news to the rookie "was almost like talking to a veteran."

--LHP Bobby Seay, still waiting to pitch in his first exhibition game entering the weekend, will open the season on the disabled list while he recovers from a sore left shoulder. Seay began throwing from a mound in mid-March. "I've had to start over; now it's a matter of building my arm strength," Seay said. "If I was ready to pitch, I'd be pitching in a game. But this was a step forward. For the longest time, I didn't know if it would ever go away. I'm obviously not where I need to be because I haven't even thrown a breaking ball yet. It would be a long day at the office without a breaking ball." Said manager Jim Leyland, "It's very doubtful, in the opinions of all our people so far, not impossible but doubtful, that Seay will be ready to start the season. It could happen, but I think it's unlikely."

--RHP Zach Miner's tender right elbow might prevent him from opening the season on Detroit's active roster. An MRI determined there was nothing seriously wrong after Miner allowed at least one run in all five of his spring games for a 12.15 ERA. "I've strained some stuff in there," said Miner, "but it wasn't my ligament. I was concerned about that because it had been bothering me for a little bit. Anytime you get pain in your elbow, you're immediately concerned. We've been treating it, because I was hoping to get ready for the season while treating it at the same time but it got to a point where I was thinking about my arm out there. It was affecting my performances, kind of snowballing. Obviously the results so far have been pretty bad, so we decided to shut it down and get it looked at." Miner won't throw again until the soreness is taken care of. "I'll try to get back as quickly as I can, but I don't think they're going to rush it. I'd love to say I'm definitely going to be ready, but it's tough to tell. Right now we're just trying to get the pain out of it." He said of the MRI, "I was pretty nervous about what they were going to find. I'd never had an MRI on my arm. But they actually said it looked good. Nothing structural, just strained."

--OF Clete Thomas is on the edge as far as making the Detroit roster out of spring training is concerned. Thomas has a decent spring batting average, but the versatility of UT Don Kelly might make the difference. Both bat left-handed. Manager Jim Leyland described Thomas as having a "Jekyll and Hyde" spring. "Sometimes from at-bat to at-bat," Leyland said. "It's amazing. One time he looks like Babe Ruth, the next time it looks like he has no plan."

--UT Don Kelly struggled through a slump to make a renewed bid for a season-opening roster spot. Kelly can play multiple infield and outfield spots, which his chief competitor, OF Clete Thomas, cannot do. Both bat left-handed. Kelly said he's not letting the pressure overpower him. "When I was younger, yes," said Kelly, 30, who has seen spot action with Detroit and Pittsburgh. "When you are older, you realize you have your ups and downs. I'm just trying to go about my business the same way. I want to have good at-bats and good swings like in any other situation."

--LHP Daniel Schlereth will probably open the season in the minors because of the depth of left-handed relievers on the Detroit roster. Schlereth, 23, has impressed the organization since being obtained in an offseason trade with Arizona, but the fact that he has options remaining is a factor. "I see good stuff," manager Jim Leyland said. "He's still a little crude. He hasn't pitched much -- (18-plus) innings in the big leagues. He's a little inconsistent. But he's got a very nice arm and very nice makings of a curveball."

--CF Austin Jackson has had an impressive spring in his bid to play regularly and lead off for the Tigers and was recently given the green light to steal whenever he wants by manager Jim Leyland. "I want to see how he'll look stealing a base," Leyland said. Jackson has shown the kind of excellent defensive ability the organization scouts said he had but has shown much better patience at the plate than his track record shows. Jackson was a high-strikeout guy in the minors but has shown an ability to lay off bad pitches in spring training while at the same time putting strikes into play. "His outfield play has never been questioned," Tiger Hall of Fame RF AL Kaline said. "He has good instincts, he takes good routes to the ball and he has a good arm. But I've been very impressed with his ability to take pitches. He's been able to foul off some perfect pitches, and looking at his minor league statistics (123 strikeouts in 132 Triple-A games last season), I'm surprised." "It's an interesting thing," GM Dave Dombrowski said. "You scratch your head when you see his strikeout totals in the minor leagues and here (where Jackson has struck out just four times) ... they don't seem to mesh. He's shown an ability to recognize pitches. And he's got pop."

--RHP Joel Zumaya, rocked for a 9.64 ERA in 4 2/3 spring innings, was sent to minor league camp during the week to work on his delivery. "We're checking into some things," manager Jim Leyland said. "He's throwing the ball good. The velocity is no different. The arm strength is there. But the release point, and the camouflage, isn't there. When you're throwing 98, they shouldn't be centering it." Detroit checked video from 2006, Zumaya's sensational rookie season, and determined he needed to lengthen out his arm. "His arm slot is pretty much the same," Leyland said, "but he's not extending as he did. He's tucking and getting underneath the ball. We'll be working on getting him more extension." Pitching outside of exhibition games will allow Zumaya to work on his mechanics outside the spotlight. He will return to pitch in exhibition games once the corrections are made.

BY THE NUMBERS: $12,322 -- Winning bid March 12 to get a 1984 World Series ring owned by INF Doug Baker, who lost the original and ordered a replacement. When the original turned up, Baker put it up for bid on eBay. The ring got 5,408 views and drew 25 offers from 11 different bidders.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm smarter than I look. I'm not trying to strike everybody out. I'm just trying to get quality outs. I'm all for guys lining out 27 times." -- LHP Dontrelle Willis on his success this spring. Willis, battling what has been diagnosed as an anxiety disorder, has won just one game in two seasons since the Tigers signed him to a three-year contract after getting him in a trade with Florida.

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