LAKELAND, Fla. -- The Tigers have some decisions to make as they put together their pitching staff for Opening Day. The remaining Minor League options on some of their key pitchers could play a key role in deciding their fates.While Matthew Boyd and Daniel Norris are both key young pitchers
LAKELAND, Fla. -- The Tigers have some decisions to make as they put together their pitching staff for Opening Day. The remaining Minor League options on some of their key pitchers could play a key role in deciding their fates.
While Matthew Boyd and Daniel Norris are both key young pitchers the Tigers need to develop as part of their rebuilding plan, they both have a Minor League option left. Meanwhile, Francisco Liriano has joined Michael Fulmer, Jordan Zimmermann and Mike Fiers -- Fiers' Spring Training struggles notwithstanding -- as projected members of the rotation.
Unless Fiers -- who is out of options -- goes to the bullpen, that leaves one spot for either Boyd or Norris. The other will go to the bullpen in Detroit or the rotation at Triple-A Toledo. Considering the emphasis general manager Al Avila has placed on building starting-pitching depth, the latter option seems more likely.
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Norris started Friday's Grapefruit League contest against the Phillies with a ton of focus on his situation as the potential odd man out. He did not pitch for the first turn through the Tigers' rotation last month as a precaution after undergoing a follow-up exam on the right groin injury that sidelined him last summer. His previous two outings were relief appearances and he entered Friday with five innings pitched for the spring as pitching coach Chris Bosio brings him along slowly.
Norris made six starts at Toledo last year while on an injury rehab assignment after spending the first half of the season in Detroit's rotation. He rejoined the Tigers once rosters expanded in September.
Boyd has made four starts in the Tigers' rotation this spring, allowing five earned runs on 10 hits over 11 innings with three walks and 11 strikeouts. He had a particularly strong last outing Monday against the Nationals with three scoreless innings of one-hit ball, overcoming a pair of walks with three strikeouts.
"It's not my decision," Boyd said of the rotation. "My job is go out there and attack and just go do my thing, help my team out in whatever way that I can. I'm excited about the opportunity that we have. I think we have an awesome rotation, whatever way that it shakes out, an awesome pitching staff. I think we have a really solid team. My job is to just take the ball when I'm told and just go attack."
Though Boyd has been shuttled between Detroit and Toledo in each of the last three seasons, he still has an option remaining. So, too, does Buck Farmer, who has been on a similar back and forth the last few years as an insurance starter but has been exclusively a reliever this spring.
The Tigers have had more of a challenge with options in past years. Detroit, knowing a rebuilding was looming, carried Dixon Machado on the roster as an extra infielder last year because he was out of options and the Tigers feared losing him on waivers like they did with fellow infielder Hernan Perez in 2015.
Machado received just 181 plate appearances last year, but is now in position to start at second base with Ian Kinsler traded to the Angels. If Jose Iglesias is traded this season or leaves as a free agent next winter, Machado could shift over to shortstop, his natural position.
The Tigers could face a similar decision next year with Norris and Boyd. For now, though, the options give Tigers management a play.
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.