3 crucial questions as Tigers begin Spring Training
LAKELAND, Fla. -- The walk from the Tigers' clubhouse at Joker Marchant Stadium to the bullpen mounds at Tiger Town is a little longer this spring for pitchers. They have to walk around the giant construction project beyond right field for the new clubhouse and administration building.
It's a fitting stroll for a pitching staff that since the end of last season received a rebuild of its own.
• Spring: Projections | Bounceback | Newcomers | Prospects | Position battles
After an offseason of wheeling and dealing, the Tigers finally get to see their new collection of arms on the field this week. Though pitchers and catchers officially report to Spring Training on Thursday, many Tigers pitchers have been here for a while, working out on their own.
Justin Verlander, despite his worldly travels, still makes an offseason home in Lakeland, allowing him to use the big league facilities to work out when the need arises. With a healthy arm, a strong finish and a chip on his shoulder, the onetime workout fiend has returned to his winter tradition of strengthening rather than recuperating. Anibal Sanchez, who had to strengthen and recover this winter, also has been at the complex regularly.
Daniel Norris drove his van, Shaggy, from his home in Johnson City, Tenn., all the way to the Florida Gulf Coast shortly after TigerFest last month, eventually finding a parking spot near the Tigers' Minor League complex. Mike Pelfrey wasn't far behind.
Once formal workouts begin Friday, the Tigers will get a closer look at what they have and how the pieces fit. Here's a look at three big questions they'll face on the pitching side:
1. Is Verlander really back?
He's back to being the Opening Day starter, fulfilling a goal he had set after losing out on the nod to David Price last spring. Now comes the challenge of picking up where he left off last year. After a half-dozen starts' worth of inconsistent performances upon return from the DL last year, Verlander posted a 2.27 ERA and allowed a .207 batting average over his final 14 starts, surrendering 74 hits over 99 1/3 innings.
Verlander's 5-5 record that stretch was partly the result of run support, with the Tigers scoring two runs or fewer in seven of the 14 starts. If he continues delivering those type of performances, the rest of Detroit's rotation lines up very well.
2. Can Sanchez stay healthy?
Sanchez was the American League ERA leader in 2013, making his five-year contract look like a relative bargain at the time. He has struggled ever since -- first with injuries in 2014, then with pitching last year, giving up 29 home runs and posting a 4.99 ERA.
His lack of success proved to be injury-related in 2015 once he was diagnosed with shoulder issues. Sanchez didn't require surgery, and he spent his offseason trying to improve flexibility in his arm while adding strength to his lower body.
3. What impact will new pitching coach Rich Dubee make?
The former Phillies pitching coach replaces Jeff Jones, who retired last fall but will spend a week in camp to help in the transition. Jones built a fierce loyalty among Tigers pitchers, including Verlander, something Dubee enjoyed in Philadelphia with Roy Halladay and others. Dubee has a background in developing pitchers, something that the Tigers need with young arms such as Norris, Michael Fulmer, Matt Boyd, Shane Greene and prospects.