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Numerous candidates battle for Tigers' final reserve job

The SportsXchange

A team is in good shape when one of its chief tasks in spring training is determining who sits on the last bench seat.

Manager Jim Leyland will spend all spring deciding what he wants his bench to look like.

Reserve catcher Brayan Pena has one of the four spots locked up (designated hitter Victor Martinez won't catch), and another job seems to belong to middle infielder Ramon Santiago, who is on the last season of a two-year deal.

Even that, though, isn't 100 percent certain as Danny Worth is an option. Worth has an option remaining, so he could be sent to the minors one more year.

Leyland knows none of his reserves is likely to see much more than occasional playing time, unless a starter gets hurt, because Detroit has a lineup of experienced players and won't be pinch-hitting very often.

Austin Jackson in center and Torii Hunter in right will be pretty much everyday players, although Hunter might get the odd day off in deference to his age.

The Tigers have Andy Dirks as their tentative regular left fielder with Brennan Boesch making a push this spring to remain in the club's future. Both hit left-handed, and all things being equal, the team would like a right-handed bat for use against tough lefties.

Detroit will be looking long at Rule 5 pick Jeff Kobernus as that right-handed bat even though his outfield experience is limited to his high school and college days. He's a second baseman by trade, but it's his speed that interests Detroit. He's stolen a combined 95 bases the past two seasons, though he's never appeared above Class AA.

Boesch lost his spot as a regular the last two months of last season when he stopped hitting, but his potential as a game-changing RBI/power bat means the Tigers will give him every chance to come through.

So it seems, barring injury or trade, Detroit will at least enter the season with Boesch as the primary backup outfielder.

That puts the last spot up for grabs between Kobernus, Quintin Berry and versatile Don Kelly, in camp as a non-roster player.

"I know I've got pieces to mix and match," Leyland said. "There aren't many perfect players. It doesn't work that way. So, you try and figure which guy can help you win a game."

Berry hits left-handed, but his chief contribution would be as a game-changing pinch runner. He was 21-for-21 stealing bases last year, and he performed well when filling in at center when Jackson was injured.

Kelly offers the ability to play both infield and outfield and has pinch-hitting experience. He also hits left-handed.

If Detroit feels Kobernus will hit occasionally, it may keep him because he bats right-handed and he is an experienced base-stealer.

Whoever has the last seat probably won't bat more than 100 times, so Leyland will be looking for someone who can do one thing for the club and do it well.
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