TAMPA, Fla. -- The battle for the Tigers' rotation appears to be reaching a conclusion. Anibal Sanchez has been informed he will begin the season in the bullpen, a source close to the situation confirmed to MLB.com Tuesday night.The Detroit Free Press first reported that Sanchez is expected to serve
TAMPA, Fla. -- The battle for the Tigers' rotation appears to be reaching a conclusion. Anibal Sanchez has been informed he will begin the season in the bullpen, a source close to the situation confirmed to MLB.com Tuesday night.
The Detroit Free Press first reported that Sanchez is expected to serve as Detroit's long reliever when the regular season begins next week. Tigers manager Brad Ausmus did not announce any decisions on the rotation before Tuesday's game against the Yankees, but he said Monday that he expected a decision before Sanchez and Matthew Boyd make their final spring outings Thursday against the Orioles.
Boyd and Sanchez are essentially pitching a piggyback start Thursday. Boyd was listed at the top of the pitching list on the schedule posted in the clubhouse on Monday, but Ausmus cautioned that night not to read anything into it. Barring something unexpected, a Sanchez move to the bullpen would clear the way for Boyd to assume a rotation spot alongside Justin Verlander, Jordan Zimmermann, Michael Fulmer and Daniel Norris.
What looked early like an easy victory for Boyd in a three-way competition for the final spot became a very close race over the past couple weeks. After a miserable start to camp, Sanchez tweaked his delivery and posted 14 scoreless innings on two hits with 16 strikeouts over his past three outings, including six hitless innings against the Pirates last Saturday at Bradenton.
As good as Sanchez has pitched lately, however, he had tough competition in Boyd, who has posted a 21-to-0 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 21 2/3 innings this spring. The third-year lefty has allowed just two runs on 15 hits over 18 innings in his past four outings, striking out 18 batters.
The expectation had been that if Boyd and Sanchez pitched close to even, the combination of Sanchez's contract -- including a $16.8 million salary guaranteed this season -- and Boyd's remaining Minor League option would likely serve as a tiebreaker. In theory, the Tigers could keep Sanchez and fellow starting candidate Mike Pelfrey, who's guaranteed $8 million this season, while having Boyd in reserve as an in-season callup for injury or replacement. Detroit has emphasized the need to build pitching depth all spring, especially with starting pitchers.
At the same time, general manager Al Avila has emphasized that the Tigers need to get younger over the long term. Boyd, who turned 26 last month, has opened eyes with his performance ever since the stretch run last season. Multiple scouts following the club this spring have said they see Boyd with the potential to become a second or third starter in the rotation.
The flip side is uncertainty over Pelfrey, signed last offseason to a two-year, $16 million deal. While the veteran right-hander could serve as starting depth, Ausmus said over the weekend that they probably can't find enough innings to carry two insurance starters in their bullpen.
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast.