Tigers have 5th spot to fill in rotation

Associated Press  |  Last updated February 29, 2012

LAKELAND, FL - FEBRUARY 21: (EDITOR'S NOTE: IMAGES HAVE BEEN DIGITALLY DESATURATED) Manager, Jim Leyland #10 of the Detroit Tigers poses for a portrait during Photo Day on February 21, 2009 at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Florida. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
(Eds: Updates.) Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland has a pretty good idea who his four top starters are going to be this season. Cy Young winner Justin Verlander, of course. Rick Porcello, Max Scherzer and Doug Fister sure seem likely to make the cut, too. That leaves one spot, but don't ask Leyland about it. He bristled when he was asked about it Wednesday. ''I've made this perfectly clear,'' Leyland said. ''I'm not going to discuss it. I'm not going to waste my time talking about it. There's no sense looking for hints because I don't know anything. I have no clue who it's going to be. It's like beating a dead horse.'' The Tigers open their spring season on Friday against Florida Southern and former second-round choice Andy Oliver will get the start, but Leyland said that means absolutely nothing. The top four starters will get the next four starts, but Leyland said whoever starts the following game doesn't mean anything, either. ''One kid has to start, so don't read anything into anything,'' Leyland said. ''Whoever gets the starts means nothing.'' Porcello went 14-9 last season after a rocky 2010 season. Scherzer went 15-9, and Fister was the biggest surprise of all last season, going 8-1 for the Tigers with a 1.79 ERA after coming over from Seattle for the stretch drive. He was 3-12 for the Mariners before the July 30 trade. Porcello is 23, Scherzer is 27 and Fister in 28, so the Tigers should have one of the youngest starting rotations in baseball to go with one of the most powerful lineups in the game. ''Scherzer is a real talent,'' Leyland said. ''He is only going to get better. He's still young, but he has everything figured out. Scherzer knows how to pitch, but all four of our starters are very smart and very talented. They know themselves and know what they can do.'' As for Fister, he'll get the start in Saturday's game against Atlanta. Again, Leyland said not to take that to mean anything because while mentioning the four starters, he said nothing is set in stone. Except, most likely, Verlander. ''Fister is really talented,'' Leyland said. ''He went through some ups and downs last year and I think he learned a lot.'' Fister said he became comfortable as soon as he reached Detroit last year. He was key during the stretch run and went 2-1 in the postseason, including a 3-2 win over the Yankees in the deciding game of the ALDS and a 5-2 win over the Rangers in the ALCS. He seems like someone who has been with the Tigers a lot longer than just three months last season. ''Right now I am still getting into the mental side of the game, but it was fun last year, getting to become part of the tradition of this franchise,'' Fister said. ''I still have to learn the little things, but these guys made me so comfortable as soon as I got here, so it was an easy transition.'' Fister's spring training locker is next to Verlander's and he watches the him both on and off the field. The two talk often and Fister, who is one year younger than Verlander, said he can learn a lot. ''I see how he deals with pressure on the mound and how he is a leader on this team,'' Fister said. ''He's the ace.'' Fister said it never crosses his mind since, like Leyland, he said slotting the rotation means nothing and he doesn't care where he fits into the rotation. ''After opening day, it all goes out the door,'' Fister said. Notes: Leyland ended Wednesday's morning press conference with a memorable line. When told that former Red Sox manager Terry Francona referred to Leyland on ESPN as ''baseball's gold standard'' for managers, Leyland said, ''He must have meant `old standard.'''. RHP Joaquin Benoit was throwing batting practice after missing two days with a neck injury. Leyland said most of his regular starters will get one at-bat against Florida Southern if they feel comfortable.
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