The Tigers have answered their biggest question heading into spring training this season. Rick Porcello has pitched brilliantly this spring and has kept his spot in the Tiger rotation, according to multiple Tigers' beat writers on the scene in Lakeland. Porcello made six starts, with four wins, one loss, a 3.00 ERA in 24 innings, 0.75 WHIP, 21 strikeouts, no walks, and a .202 batting average against.
Left hander Drew Smylly, who surprised and wowed everyone with his performance last season, gets the consolation prize. He will start the season in the Tiger bullpen as a long reliever. Smyly this spring made six starts, going 4- 0, with a 3.38 ERA, 21.1 innings, a 1.03 WHIP, 17 K's, 3 BB, .238 average allowed. Not bad at all, but not enough to unseat Porcello.
There was much talk this spring in the media that the Tigers were "shopping" Porcello. Dave Dombrowski said that they weren't eager to trade the 24 year old right hander, but that they'd listen to offers. In other words, he was available, but they didn't get any offers that they couldn't refuse.
In the end, Dombrowski decided that a starting pitcher with three seasons left before free agency, who has made 31 starts in each of his first four seasons since joining the Tigers, is worth more than what was being offered for him.All signs point to a better ERA for Porcello this season since the Tigers have upgraded their defense in the infield, and Porcello is a "ground ball pitcher". He has ditched an ineffective slider in favor of a curve ball, and the results in spring so far have been impressive.
The question, then, was what to do with Smyly? The left handed rookie Smyly threw 99.1 innings in 2012, with a 3.99 ERA and 8.5 K/9 innings in 2012. He was the only left handed starter on the team, and would have been the only lefty had he been selected for the rotation this year.
Smyly was sent to the bullpen last summer when the Tigers acquired Anibal Sanchez at the trade deadline last July. Porcello joined him on the playoff roster in the bullpen. When the Tigers resigned Sanchez to a five year, $ 80 million contract after the season, that put the status of both Smyly and Porcello up in the air.
The Tigers are still concerned that they may not be able to give Smyly enough innings in the bullpen to keep him sharp if they should need to plug him in the rotation, but he is clearly the best available left handed pitcher for that job. Ironically, if all goes well with the Tiger starters, as expected, there won't be a great need for a "long reliever", so it's possible that the Tigers will still make a move later on to get Smyly some more work.