Originally posted on The Outside Corner  |  Last updated 3/27/13
With just five days until nearly the entire league begins play on April 1st, roster battles are being decided here in the final week of games. The last spot on the bench or in the bullpen is largely inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, but the fifth starter's job in the rotation means a lot more. A lot of teams usually have an open competition in spring for the final job in the starting five, and this year was no exception. Just five days from the league-wide Opening Day, most of these battles have been decided, and the choices some teams have made involve both familiar names and some incredibly bizarre decisions. The Tampa Bay Rays are going with Jeff Niemann in their fifth spot as opposed to the more talented Chris Archer or Jake Odorizzi, mostly because Niemann is out of options. But his innings pitched have gone down in each year since his full season debut in 2009 due to injuries, and it's not out of the realm of possibility that he'll get hurt again to open the door for one of the two electric farmhands. The Toronto Blue Jays, perhaps shockingly, demoted Ricky Romero (who started for the team on Opening Day last year) to high-A Dunedin and gave their fifth starter's job to JA Happ. Happ earned the job after a strong spring, while Romero was absolutely dreadful and needs to get his groove back in the minors. It's an understandable, but jarring, decision from the Jays. In Cleveland, Scott Kazmir beat out Trevor Bauer, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Carlos Carrasco to win the job. Kazmir has thrown just 1 2/3 innings in the majors since 2011, but the former Rays stud struck out 13 in 13 spring innings while walking one. Matsuzaka seems primed to replace him in case he struggles though, after he re-signed with the Tribe on a minor league deal. As for Carrasco and Bauer, the former is still recovering from Tommy John surgery and doesn't seem to be all the way back yet, while the latter can still use some priming in the minor leagues. Rick Porcello beat out Drew Smyly in Detroit, but this wasn't much of a competition after Porcello struck out 21 without a walk in 24 spring innings. Smyly was also very good this spring, and he'll give the Tigers some solid depth in case of an injury, but this is simply a situation where there are six deserving pitchers for five spots. It's a good thing the Tigers didn't panic and trade Porcello for a reliever like was rumored earlier this month. The Royals are going with Luis Mendoza over former number one overall pick Luke Hochevar and veteran Bruce Chen, with both players heading to the bullpen. Mendoza had a solid enough spring, while Chen got absolutely shelled, allowing seven homers in 14 2/3 innings. Hochevar wasn't bad, but he was switched to relief early in the spring, doing pretty well in his new role. Seattle raised eyebrows across the league by naming Brandon Maurer their fifth starter over Erasmo Ramirez, who was phenomenal during his brief tenure in the majors last year. I think the more confusing thing isn't going with Maurer over Ramirez, but also choosing Blake Beavan over Ramirez. Beavan not only has had a worse spring than Ramirez, but also was worse last year and is actually a year older than Ramirez. It's just an odd choice across the board. Texas was forced into a situation where they needed a fifth starter after Martin Perez fractured his forearm, and their choice was Nick Tepesch, who didn't have a great spring and hasn't pitched above AA. The 25-year old Tepesch is a high groundball guy that seemed to be the choice by default with Perez, Colby Lewis, and Neftali Feliz all starting the year on the DL. The only other options would have been to sign Kyle Lohse (which didn't seem like it was going to happen from the getgo) or go with Justin Grimm, who had 14 erratic innings in the majors last season. Over in the National League, Kevin Slowey took advantage of an awful spring from Jacob Turner to win the fifth starter's job in MIami. Turner walked nine and struck out five in 13 spring innings, and the jewel of last summer's Anibal Sanchez trade will start the year in the minors once again. Adding Slowey to the band of misfit toys (and Giancarlo Stanton) in Miami just seems like it's going to create some ugly baseball. The Mets don't know what the hell they're doing. Shaun Marcum and Johan Santana will both likely start the year on the DL for New York, and their injuries guaranteed Jeremy Hefner a spot in the Opening Day rotation for at least the time being. The Mets don't need a fifth starter for the first week of the season, so they might just play it by ear to start the year and see what the deal with Santana and Marcum's health is. Pittsburgh has guaranteed Jonathan Sanchez their fifth starter's job despite an ugly spring, and are giving Jeff Locke a chance as the fourth starter. But in reality, those two just appear to be keeping spots warm for Jeff Karstens and Francisco Liriano (whenever each gets healthy), and eventually, Gerrit Cole. Shelby Miller took advantage of Chris Carpenter's shoulder injury to claim a job in the St Louis rotation for 2013, sending Joe Kelly (who started 16 games for the Cardinals last year) to the pen thanks to an awful spring. The future is now in St Louis, and with Carlos Martinez also approaching the majors quickly, this staff is going to keep getting younger. Nothing appears to be settled yet in Arizona between Randall Delgado and Pat Corbin, though Corbin likely has the inside track in the final week of Spring Training. However, that might not even matter, as Wade Miley might start the year on the DL while he's battling some arm fatigue.  The Rockies are such a train wreck that they handed a starting job to Jon Garland, who didn't pitch in the majors last year at all, on the strength of a spring that saw him strike out just five hitters and walk six in 18 innings. Drew Pomeranz and Tyler Chatwood didn't have good springs at all, but they at least potentially have a future in Colorado, unlike Garland. Chris Capuano appears to be the rotation filler du jour in Los Angeles while Zack Greinke starts the year on the DL. Aaron Harang and Ted Lilly are both slated for bullpen spots, and Capuano will likely join them when Greinke is healthy. The Padres released veteran Freddy Garcia after a terrible spring, and appear to be committed to Tyson Ross as the fifth starter to begin the year. Ross had a decent enough spring, but his job will likely be temporary with Andrew Cashner recovering from nearly cutting his thumb off. [follow]
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