Who Will Be the Detroit Tigers' Fifth Starter?

Joe UnderhillCorrespondent IIIMarch 21, 2009

KANSAS CITY, MO - MAY 13:  Starting pitcher Nate Robertson #29 of the Detroit Tigers pitches during the game against the Kansas City Royals on May 13, 2008 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

The Tigers' rotation is still somewhat in limbo.

Justin Verlander is the staff ace, and obviously Leyland's No. 1 starter. It appears that Edwin Jackson may have pitched himself into the No. 2 slot, to be followed by Jeremy Bonderman (if healthy) and Armando Galarraga.

It is the fifth slot in the Tigers' rotation that has Jim Leyland and Dave Dombroski scratching their heads.

Dontrelle Wills or Nate Robertson was supposed to be the answer for the fifth rotation spot, but until recently, neither has had a strong spring.

To make matters even more difficult for Leyland, youngster Rick Porcello is pitching like the top of the rotation starter the Tigers believe he'll be.

The Tigers have said they'd prefer for Porcello to get another year of seasoning in the minors, but that will only happen if Robertson or Wills get their act together.

Robertson has recently strung together seven shut-out innings. In his last outing he looked like the Robertson of 2006 who won 14 games, and pitched 200+ innings.

Wills reverted to his old delivery toward the end of his last outing, and it seemed to have positive results.

Ideally, either Robertson or Wills would fill in as long relief, spot, or injury insurance for the Tigers. This would allow Porcello time to finish developing before being thrown into the majors.

At this point, the Tigers really need a left hander in their rotation. I would think that if the season started today, the Tigers' rotation would be:

1. Justin Verlander
2. Edwin Jackson
3. Armando Galarraga
4. Jeremy Bonderman
5. Nate Robertson

If Willis' return to his old delivery results in the old Willis (22 wins), then he would replace Robertson. For this to happen, Willis' next two outings will be critical.

Robertson has pitched seven shut-out innings. Wills pretty much needs to match that, or he will be in the 'pen to start the season.

The Tigers should have three solid starters this year, four if Bonderman is healthy. A good portion of their success will depend on how well their fifth starter pitches.