LAKELAND, Fla. — The Detroit Tigers still have some decisions to make but a couple of things are now clear — Rick Porcello has made the rotation, Drew Smyly will start the season in the bullpen and Matt Tuiasosopo has made the team.
Porcello is 4-1 with a 3.00 ERA and 0.75 WHIP. Smyly is 4-0 with a 3.38 ERA and 1.03 WHIP. Porcello has a remarkable 21 strikeouts to zero walks this spring. Smyly has 17 strikeouts to three walks.
“Please do not call Rick Porcello a fifth starter because he’s not a fifth starter,” manager Jim Leyland said before Tuesday’s game against the Atlanta Braves. “He’s one of our starting pitchers. There’s a difference.”
Leyland gave his reasons for putting Smyly in the bullpen.
“Number 1, he’s one of our 12 best pitchers,” Leyland said. “Number 2, we felt like the fact that he’s built up to 100 pitches this spring — with the weather conditions and everything, where you have delays and you might have to take a starter out — he can come in and pitch four or five innings and do that for a period of time.”
Smyly had a chance to pitch in relief late last season and during the playoffs, which he said would help him start the season in that role.
“I’m just pumped to be on the team from the beginning,” Smyly said. “I just wanted to make it, help contribute whatever I can for this team to win. It’s an honor to be there. I’m excited they gave me that chance.”
Leyland said he explained to Smyly that if he’s not getting enough work, at some point he might have to go down to the minors to make a couple of starts.
Catcher Alex Avila said he believes having both Porcello and Smyly on the team makes them better.
“With Smyly in the bullpen, that’s just another guy that Skip can trust coming out of the bullpen, really in any situation,” Avila said.
As for Tuiasosopo, Leyland said he told him that he’s on the team, barring injury or some unforeseen player who falls into their lap before camp breaks.
“I think he deserves a shot. He’s stung the ball,” Leyland said. He’s hit the ball out of the ballpark. He’s hit the ball hard. He’s played first. He’s played third. He’s played in the outfield pretty well.
“I think it’s a great story, and I think you’re supposed to reward people like that.”
Tuiasosopo said his wife, Abi, cried when he called and told her the news.
“I feel very blessed and thankful,” Tuiasosopo said. “It’s been a crazy spring, with the birth of my first son, now this. It’s been an amazing spring.”
Tuiasosopo is batting .327 with four home runs and 10 RBIs.