I didn't go to church yesterday, but Lynn Henning wrote something about Zach Miner on his blog that made me stand up and shout, "Amen!"
I don't know what Miner has to do to convince a team that he's a starter, not a reliever.
When he starts, the chances of him pitching six capable innings are quite good. When he relieves, his control goes down a notch and he is a so-so bet to be any kind of bullpen plus.
Still, the Tigers talk of him being a reliever in 2009. If I were them, I would commit to acquiring true relievers and name Miner to the starting staff today.
Bingo, bango! He puts the lotion in the basket! Boom goes the dynamite.
I assume there's going to be a competition between Dontrelle Willis, Nate Robertson, and Miner for the fifth spot in the starting rotation. I just hope the big contracts carried by those first two players doesn't influence the decision-making process as much as how each pitcher performs. (Although, really, would it be a surprise if money is ultimately a determining factor? Willis isn't being paid $10 million next season to be a middle reliever. Nor is Robertson getting his $7 million for such a role.)
This might be oversimplifying the issue, but Miner's splits alone would seem to confirm that he's better for the Tigers as a starter than reliever. In the bullpen, he allowed 23 runs in 44.2 innings, as opposed to 35 runs in 73.1 innings when starting. He also walked fewer batters as a starter (19) than reliever (27).
Maybe some of that has to do with Miner just getting his head straight after being sent to the minors to stretch out. But even Jim Leyland admitted that Miner pitches better, instead of trying to throw too hard, when pacing himself through a longer outing.
The question is, where does Miner addresses the larger need? Does he help the Tigers more from the bullpen - if he learns to pitch better when coming into a game, and probably with runners on base - since the team is aching for consistent middle relief? (We already know Leyland is enamored with Miner's sinkerball getting key outs.) Or does he help more as a starter, simply because he seems to perform better in that role?
What would be troubling is if that decision has already been made.