Tigers Notes: Spring camp roster trimmed to 28; Mike Fiers to start season on DL?

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Hard to imagine that we’re exactly one week away from Opening Day in Major League Baseball. Come March 29, the Detroit Tigers will be opening the 2018 season at home against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

But before they head north from Lakeland, they need to figure out which 25 guys will make up the Opening Day roster. On Thursday, the team announced another series of roster cuts.

RELIEVERS

Left-handed relievers Chad Bell (back) and Blaine Hardy (shoulder) have both been limited to some degree throughout spring due to nagging injuries, more so Hardy, who has made just one appearance in camp. Bell, however, has logged 7.2 innings of work in five outings, allowing just one run on five hits and three base on balls, striking out seven.

Both Bell (2) and Hardy (1) do have option years remaining, hence making the decision easier for the Tigers.

As far as hopefuls to still make the big league club, it appears that six of the seven bullpen spots are locked up. The consensus seems to be that the final spot will be given to either Warwick Saupold or Johnny Barbato, whom the team claimed off waivers from the Pirates earlier this winter.

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CATCHERS

Catcher Derek Norris performed very well offensively in 13 games this spring for Detroit, hitting over .400 with one home run and four runs batted in, striking out just once in 17 at-bats. And fellow veteran backstop Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who re-signed with Detroit earlier this month, went 3/11 in his five games played.

It’s unclear what the Tigers’ plan will be regarding their trio of veteran catchers that they have on minor league deals. In addition to Norris and Saltalamacchia, the team also has Brayan Peña under contract. One, perhaps two, of these catchers are penciled in to start the year at Triple-A Toledo.

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As far as the ramifications with the Tigers, it clears the way for John Hicks to be the sole backup to starter James McCann.

UTILITY PLAYERS

Infielders Pete Kozma and Ronny Rodriguez were two candidates to earn a spot on the Tigers’ bench as a utility role. Kozma collected just three hits in 20 official spring ABs but showed great plate discipline by inducing nine walks, more than any other player in camp. Rodriguez in 37 ABs hit just under .300 (11/37), with three doubles and a triple.

Defensively, Kozma played the bulk of his time as a middle infielder, logging 64 of his 66 defensive innings played at either second base or shortstop. Meanwhile, the Tigers played Rodriguez everywhere, sans pitcher and catcher. Most of his time in the field was at third base (38 innings), where he committed three errors in 11 total chances.

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The demoting of Kozma and Rodriguez to minor league camp whittled down the battle for the team’s utility player role to two players: Alexi Amarista and Niko Goodrum.

OUTFIELDERS

Both outfielders Jim Adduci and Chad Huffman were in consideration to be the Tigers’ “fourth outfielder” if you will. Adduci played 46 of his 50 defensive innings in either left or right field; Huffman played all 19 of his defensive innings in a corner spot as well. Both also saw considerable time at first base this spring, upping their value as utility men.

Adduci hit .278 in 36 ABs this spring, versus just a .179 clip in 28 ABs for Huffman.

While this does have some trickle-down effect for the pool of utility players, Adduci and Huffman being reassigned has a bigger impact on outfielders JaCoby Jones and Victor Reyes, both of whom appear to also be fighting for a spot on the bench.

FIERS TO DL?

It seems that the Tigers will already have one casualty on the disabled list come Opening Day. The latest reports are that starter Mike Fiers could be placed on the DL to start the season, due to lingering back problems.

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It is also possible that the 32-year-old Fiers could just be a late addition to the Tigers’ roster and could stay down in Lakeland for extended spring training.

Detroit signed Fiers as a free agent back in early December for the 2018 season. He’s been able to stay relatively healthy each of the previous three seasons, averaging roughly 30 starts per year while logging a 4.43 ERA in that span with both the Milwaukee Brewers and Houston Astros.

Fiers this spring, however, has struggled with command, which can be attributed to back stiffness. In four spring starts, he’s allowed 12 runs in 11.1 innings pitched, which registers to a 9.53 ERA. Opposing batters are hitting just .250 off Fiers, despite the less-than-ideal numbers, but he’s walked eight batters as well, second-most in camp for the Tigers.

So what does this mean for the Detroit rotation? Well, if Fiers is unable to get right before Opening Day, then that means the starting five is essentially etched in stone. After Jordan Zimmermann and presumably Michael Fulmer, it would then be some combination of lefties Matthew Boyd, Francisco Liriano and Daniel Norris rounding out the rotation. Who gets the boot when Fiers is ready to go, however, remains to be seen.

Detroit has the next two days off before they play their final three spring exhibitions from March 24-26. They then will break camp and head north for Detroit for Opening Day.