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Bullpen search could come down to numbers game

Leyland has nine candidates to fill as many as four open spots

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Aside from the infamous Ty Cobb photo with the tear in it, one of the fixtures in Jim Leyland's office in Spring Training is a list of pitchers and position players. The pitchers' list includes the side work they do in early workouts before the games begin.

One by one, Leyland looked down the list at potential bullpen candidates. By the time he got to the bottom of the list (alphabetically) with Brayan Villarreal, he had nine candidates for three or four open spots.

"If people are healthy, we're going to have a real good problem on our hands," Leyland said Wednesday morning, "because we've got a lot of guys. … This is not going to be easy, I'm telling you."

The safe spots belong to the setup guys: Joaquin Benoit, Phil Coke and Octavio Dotel. After that, in no particular order, there's Bruce Rondon, Al Alburquerque, Villarreal, Darin Downs, Duane Below, Rule 5 Draft pick Kyle Lobstein, Drew Smyly -- if he doesn't make the rotation -- the much-praised Jose Ortega and Luis Marte, who made the team last year before straining his hamstring on the last day of Spring Training. That adds up to nine candidates for four spots.

One could also make the case for non-roster lefty Jose Alvarez, which would bring the field to 10.

The questions are almost as numerous, from how much of a lefty-righty balance the Tigers need, to whether the Tigers' vaunted rotation reduces the need for a long reliever, to whether a closer-by-committee situation would require more setup relievers.

For that reason, Leyland cautioned that the decisions at the end of Spring Training might not come down to the best pitchers, but the best fits for the roles the Tigers are trying to fill.

"How does our whole puzzle figure out the best," Leyland asked. "It might be that somebody that's a better player doesn't make it over a lesser player, because the lesser player is suited for that role better than the better player."