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Nearing Opening Day, Tigers' roster mostly set

MLB.com @beckjason

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Exactly one month after the Tigers opened Spring Training, the big names likely to be heading north to Detroit haven't changed much. Miguel Cabrera has performed as expected, Michael Fulmer is healthy and Francisco Liriano is no longer a free agent.

OK, that last part was a change. Not only is Liriano now with the Tigers, after signing a big league contract a few weeks ago, but he is also set in the rotation, taking away a spot that was projected for someone else when camp began.

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Exactly one month after the Tigers opened Spring Training, the big names likely to be heading north to Detroit haven't changed much. Miguel Cabrera has performed as expected, Michael Fulmer is healthy and Francisco Liriano is no longer a free agent.

OK, that last part was a change. Not only is Liriano now with the Tigers, after signing a big league contract a few weeks ago, but he is also set in the rotation, taking away a spot that was projected for someone else when camp began.

The battle for bench spots has shifted some, too, as manager Ron Gardenhire toys with different possibilities and serious candidates emerge. In the bullpen, Blaine Hardy's lingering sore shoulder has changed that outlook as well.

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Still, the players that the Tigers badly need to be healthy are healthy. And the roster projection from last month is more tweaked than overhauled.

Catcher (2): James McCann, John Hicks. Gardenhire keeps leaving open the possibility of carrying three catchers like he did in some years with the Twins. But unless Cabrera or Victor Martinez are hurting, there aren't enough at-bats for Hicks at other spots to justify another backstop. That leaves him and McCann behind the plate.

First base (1): Cabrera. So far, Cabrera is not only hitting well, he's moving around with some agility, his back seemingly in good shape. Hicks will likely back him up.

Video: ATL@DET: Cabrera clears the bases with a double

Second base (1): Dixon Machado. Gardenhire said this week he wants Machado focused on second base, rather than shuffling between there and shortstop. The Tigers want to see what Machado can do in an everyday role.

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Shortstop (1): Jose Iglesias. Iglesias has arguably had a better camp than expected, good enough that Gardenhire is toying with the idea of batting him second in the lineup.

Third base (1): Jeimer Candelario. Candelario has quietly been one of the more impressive performers of camp, building off his strong September in Detroit last year.

Outfield (5): Mikie Mahtook, Leonys Martin, Nicholas Castellanos, JaCoby Jones, Victor Reyes. What looked like a struggle for Jones to find at-bats when Spring Training began has a different tone, thanks to Jones' torrid spring at the plate and his flexibility in the field. Though Martin will get the bulk of starts in center, Jones is playing all over the outfield and taking grounders in the infield, setting up a potential super-utility role for the former shortstop prospect. Reyes hasn't been quite as impressive, but he has still shown enough for the Tigers to want to keep him.

Video: DET@NYY: Reyes brings home Jones in the 9th

Designated hitter (1): Martinez. He has slugged his way out of retirement rumors and into his old spot in the middle of the order.

Utility (1): Niko Goodrum. The battle between Amarista, Goodrum and Ronny Rodriguez might come down to shortstop capability. If the Tigers want a shortstop in this spot, Amarista has an edge, having played strong defense. But Goodrum has impressed with his bat and can play all over the field.

Rotation (5): Fulmer, Jordan Zimmermann, Liriano, Mike Fiers, Matthew Boyd. The plethora of starters in camp looked like a way to push Boyd and Daniel Norris when Spring Training began. But Liriano's arrival changes that. Boyd and Norris each have a Minor League option remaining, but Norris' slow build-up this spring might set up an early stint at Triple-A Toledo.

Video: DET@TOR: Boyd sits down Donaldson in the 1st

Bullpen (7): Shane Greene, Alex Wilson, Daniel Stumpf, Drew VerHagen, Joe Jimenez, Buck Farmer, Chad Bell. The changes here are at the long end, where Farmer has thrived without the starter-reliever debate. Hardy's shoulder has created an opening for Bell, who has quietly pitched well as a second lefty who can pitch multiple innings if needed.

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.

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