2014 Tigers’ Opening Day roster is all but set

Anthony Gruppuso-US PRESSWIRE

After a busy off season of change, the Tigers know pretty well who will be on the 2014 Opening Day roster.

Despite the fact that at least 11 roster spots from the 2013 Opening Day roster will be different, the Tigers pretty much know the players who will be on the Opening Day roster in 2014.

The pitching rotation is set, with Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez, Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly.

Should the Tigers need a spot starter due to injury, they will have left handers Robbie Ray, Duane Below, Jose Alvarez, and former rule 5 acquisition Kyle Lobstein starting in Toledo. Alvarez and Lobstein are on the roster, Ray and Below are not.

The lineup is set, although the batting order is yet to be determined:

CF Austin Jackson

2B Ian Kinsler

1B Miguel Cabrera

DH Victor Martinez

RF Torii Hunter

LF Andy Dirks

3B Nick Castellanos

C Alex Avila

SS Jose Iglesias

There are a number of directions Ausmus could go with the batting order, but the cast is set. He could move Jackson down to eighth, as Jim Leyland did in October, keeping Hunter in the second slot behind Kinsler. Or bat Davis or even Dirks in one of the top two slots, depending who's pitching against Detroit on a given day. He might even keep three hitters ahead of Cabrera.

The bench is all but set, with Rajai Davis platooning with Dirks against left handed pitchers in left field, Bryan Holadaybacking up Avila, Steve Lombardozzi as the utility infield, and possibly outfield backup, and Don Kelly the favorite to fill out the roster.

The Tigers feel that Lombardozzi can capably back up the infield, although he has just two games at shortstop in the major leagues, and 20 in the minors in his pro career. He doesn't have much more experience at third. Kelly could play third, center field and right field. If Lombardozzi can't play shortstop adequately, Hernan Perez could be in line for a roster spot, as he can play second base or short.

The Bullpen is also pretty well set, although the exact roles could be, and probably will be shuffled throughout the season:

Closer- Joe Nathan

Set up- Bruce Rondon

Set up- Joba Chamberlain

LHRP- Phil Coke

LHRP- Ian Krol

RHRP- Al Alburquerque

RHRP- Luke Putkonen

Two questions are foremost in the minds of Tiger management with respect to the bullpen:

First, will Phil Coke regain enough of his old form to claim the second bullpen job, and secondly, will Putkonen beat out the competition for the last job in the pen?

Should Coke not make it, the Tigers have converted left hander Casey Crosby from starter to reliever. If that experiment works out well, Crosby could be first in line should an opening arise. The next left handed reliever in line would be Blaine Hardy, who posted an ERA of 1.68 between Erie and Toledo in 2013. Lobstein, Alvarez, and Below as mentioned above, are expected to be starting, but could be used in relief if needed.

Putkonen showed some promise last year in his time with the Tigers, pitching equally well against right and left handed hitters. But right hander Evan Reed is out of options, which could be the tie breaker that keeps him on the roster if it's a close call.

Further down the depth chart, there is no shortage of right handed relievers, with Justin Miller, Melvin Mercedes, Jose Ortega, and Jose Valdez on the roster, and Luis Marte still in the organization after clearing waivers.

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