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Wilson gets 1st starting audition in spring opener

MLB.com @beckjason

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Alex Wilson had to think about the last time he faced a bunch of college hitters. The former Texas A&M Aggie remembered when he did offseason training back on campus earlier in his professional career. To be completely honest, he might rather keep it that way.

When Wilson convinced the Tigers to let him compete for a rotation spot, the veteran setup man sold it as a good fit because he can pitch to early contact and eat innings. His first start this spring will come in the Tigers' traditional Spring Training opener on Thursday (1:05 p.m. ET) against nearby Florida Southern College, facing a group of hitters that will likely swing early and swing hard.

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Alex Wilson had to think about the last time he faced a bunch of college hitters. The former Texas A&M Aggie remembered when he did offseason training back on campus earlier in his professional career. To be completely honest, he might rather keep it that way.

When Wilson convinced the Tigers to let him compete for a rotation spot, the veteran setup man sold it as a good fit because he can pitch to early contact and eat innings. His first start this spring will come in the Tigers' traditional Spring Training opener on Thursday (1:05 p.m. ET) against nearby Florida Southern College, facing a group of hitters that will likely swing early and swing hard.

As crazy as it sounds for an exhibition game involving a collegiate team, Wilson says it could be tricky for him.

"I did a rehab [start] in A-ball two years ago and got my butt kicked there," Wilson said, "and it's going to be roughly the translation, I think. I'm just going to do my thing, work on what I need to work on. I know how it's going to go: There's going to be lots of swings around the zone, I'm always usually around the zone, so it is what it is."

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Traditionally, the Tigers have used their Florida Southern matchup as a chance to get innings for their younger pitchers, usually throwing nine guys for an inning apiece. They might still bunch a group of young hurlers together, but with several rotation candidates and limited games in which to stretch them out, they're using the exhibition to give Wilson a couple innings. Wilson said he's expecting to get 30-35 pitches, however long that takes him.

"I'm going to force it in there, hopefully get some quick ground balls, a few swings and misses here and there, and hopefully they don't hurt me too bad," Wilson said.

The rest of the Tigers' pitching slate for Thursday isn't known, though it could include others who threw live batting practice on Monday like Joe Jimenez. Likewise, manager Ron Gardenhire hasn't released his starting lineup for the game. In most years, the Tigers have started their projected Opening Day lineup and given them an at-bat apiece as a nod to the school. With a rebuilding club, though, this isn't most years.

Tweet from @tigers: Time to work! #BaseballIsBack pic.twitter.com/YomqtmAIaN

"We're mixing it up," Gardenhire said. "We've got a few of the guys in there. [James] McCann's going to catch with Willie pitching."

The rest of the Tigers' rotation this week includes a mix of established starters and candidates. Ryan Carpenter will start Friday's Grapefruit League opener against the Yankees in Tampa, Fla., followed by Jordan Zimmermann on Saturday against the Blue Jays at Joker Marchant Stadium. Sunday's set of split-squad games against the Pirates and at the Blue Jays will feature Matthew Boyd and Artie Lewicki, respectively. Michael Fulmer will make his first start of the spring on Monday against the Orioles in Sarasota, Fla.

Notably absent from the early starts are Daniel Norris and Mike Fiers. Gardenhire said they're taking it slowly with Norris, who missed Tuesday's workout for a follow-up exam on last summer's left groin injury.

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

Detroit Tigers, Alex Wilson