Smyly seemingly has edge for Detroit's fifth spot

The SportsXchange

Drew Smyly beat out five other candidates last spring to nail down the only open spot in the Detroit rotation.

This spring, the second-year starter is going up against veteran Rick Porcello.

In addition to battling one another, the two will have to ignore stories that will come up every time they pitch about one or the other being traded before the season begins.

The Tigers have the luxury of having six starters competing for five spots, a situation created when they re-signed Anibal Sanchez during the winter.

One must go at some point, barring injury to one of the others, and Porcello has been painted as the most likely candidate because he's right-handed, he's the closest to free agency and his career has seemed to plateau.

Smyly is a lefty, which Detroit lacks in its rotation, and he seemingly has a higher upside.

Porcello did make progress in terms of getting more velocity on his fastball last season, but he needs a better secondary pitch and has been working on sharpening his slider. Porcello allowed more hits than any other starter in the league and gives up more than a baserunner per inning.

Manager Jim Leyland is going to low-key it if he can, just as he'll try to keep the pressure off rookie closer candidate Bruce Rondon.

"It'll be big for the media, and that's understandable," Leyland said, "but ... I'm not going to give a day-by-day running of it. That doesn't make any sense.

"I'm not going to do it about Rondon, either. You know why? Because if you do, it sounds like you're judging them only on that day's performance. It's not going to be like that.

"We know we have two guys capable of starting in the big leagues. One of them is going to start for sure. But I'm going to wait and see and let it play out."

Porcello has pitched four seasons in the majors, winning 48 games despite being only 24. Smyly, 23, came out of college and spent just one season in the minors (the same as Porcello).

"I don't know how it's going to play out," Leyland said. "People can speculate whatever they want, but I say this emphatically: I feel tremendously confident in our starting pitchers however it ends up. I know I have six guys right now who can start in the big leagues if we began the season tomorrow.

"That's a pretty good feeling to have, and hopefully we're going to come up with another one or two who aren't in the too far distant future, whether it be Casey Crosby or whoever."

General manager Dave Dombrowski may wind up trading Porcello, but it will be on his terms -- the same as it would be if the club elects to deal Smyly.
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