Tigers' 3 Spring Training Competitions We Are Most Eager to See in Camp

Ron JuckettContributor IIIFebruary 26, 2013

Tigers' 3 Spring Training Competitions We Are Most Eager to See in Camp

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    As we get into the Grapefruit League part of the Detroit Tigers' 2013 spring training program down in Lakeland, Fla., it is time to take a look at some of the battles shaping up as the Tigers get ready to defend their American League championship.

    Most of the roster spots this preseason are already spoken for.

    Justin Verlander will be the Opening Day starter, Victor Martinez will be the everyday designated hitter and Torii Hunter will be the right fielder when the Tigers come north.

    Yet, there are still a couple battles for positions and roster spots that have yet to be decided.

    Barring injury or a trade before the season gets underway, we know 24 of the 25 players that will start the season on the major league roster.

    Surprises can, and do, happen. Players getting a good look this first week could find a longer visit to big-league camp if one of the bigger name players gets hurt or if they impress manager Jim Leyland during their audition.

    If things hold the form, however, then there are just three battles for jobs this spring. Here is a look at what the Tigers brass and fans are watching for.

Can Bruce Rondon Win the Closer's Job?

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    For a team with such high expectations as the Tigers have in 2013, the fact that the important role of closer is not locked down as the season gets underway is puzzling.

    Bruce Rondon, the 22-year-old fireballer from Venezuela, has been penciled in for the job.

    Rondon pitched one inning, the fifth, Saturday in Lakeland against the Toronto Blue Jays. After a walk and a single, Rondon struck out the next two hitters to get out of the inning.

    He throws hard and has good movement on his pitches. Whatever worry he may have caused by allowing those two baserunners was cast aside by his ability to bear down.

    He will get better chances as the spring wears on, but his poise shown in that inning is the first indication the Tigers have made the right call.

The Fifth Starter: Drew Smyly or Rick Porcello

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    The Tigers wavered most of the winter on whether they wanted to trade starting pitcher Rick Porcello or hang onto him.

    Porcello pitched his way out of the postseason rotation last year. Smyly acquitted himself rather well last season and will be a major-league starter at some point for some team.

    When Porcello could not fetch on the open market what the Tigers were looking for—either and established closer or better defensive option at shortstop—he earned one more chance to stay in the rotation.

    Porcello will get eight chances to start this spring for the Tigers.

    The first of those came in a very solid two-inning effort Friday in Kissimmee against the Atlanta Braves. He retired all six batters he faced and struck out two.

    Smyly threw two scoreless innings Monday in Clearwater starting against the Philadelphia Phillies and allowed one hit.

    Both pitchers look very comfortable in their turns.

    The pressure is going to be on Porcello. How he does when the Tigers stretch out his workload will determine whether he or Smyly gets that fifth spot.

    No Tiger player on the major league roster has run out of minor-league options. If Porcello wins the job, Smyly can go to Toledo and get his work in there to stay fresh.

    If Smyly wins the job, then expect Porcello to at least get some long work out of the pen until he is either traded or returns the rotation due to injury.

Andy Dirks: His Quest to Earn the Everyday Left Field Slot

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    Andy Dirks comes into the year with a chance to not platoon in left field if he can win the job outright this spring.

    The question surrounding Dirks is not defense or his ability to hit right-handers, but consistently hitting for average against lefties.

    Unlike other battles this spring that started with the first game against the Braves, Dirks will have to wait until closer to the end of spring training to make his case one way or the other. He was scratched from the Tigers' Grapefruit game Sunday with an intercostal strain.

    With pitchers throwing just a couple innings the first part of spring and an abundance of minor leaguers getting work halfway through the game, it will be a couple weeks before Dirks sees consistent major-league level pitching the third and fourth time through the lineup.

    Quintin Berry and Brennan Boesch are also expected to be going north with the club.

    How much playing time Berry will get will depend on just how well Dirks can hit this spring.