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Stark Views of the Fifth Starter Battle

Matt mentioned this in the comments of yesterday's Morning Prowl, but just in case you didn't see it, Jayson Stark shared a couple of scout's takes on the Tigers' two struggling fifth starter candidates.

First, Nate Robertson:

The Tigers need either Robertson or Dontrelle Willis to step up and win their fifth starter's job, just so 20-year-old Rick Porcello doesn't have to start the year in the big leagues. But Robertson has scouts shaking their heads over his "minus" stuff. "I really think it's over," said an AL scout. "He pitches like he's 40 years old. No life whatsoever. His stuff has gone backward across the board."

"Pitches like he's 40"! Maybe Detroit should try harder to bring back Kenny Rogers. At least we know he can pitch as a 40-year-old.

I'm guessing, however, that this scout hasn't watched Robertson in his last two outings. Today, for instance, he was pretty good, pitching four scoreless innings with five strikeouts, one walk, and two hits. Jason Beck seemed a bit concerned that he got more fly ball outs instead of ground balls, but they were outs nonetheless. And the Nationals have some decent hitters in their lineup.

Here's the take on Dontrelle Willis:

A scout who has seen a lot of the Tigers this spring says Dontrelle Willis has thrown so badly that "I don't think he's in their [rotation] mix at all." When Willis sacrifices stuff for command, he can still throw strikes. "But when he gets in favorable counts and has the leeway to add a little more stuff," the scout said, "it goes all over the place." This guy has $22 million coming the next two years ($10 million this year, $12 million next). So while the Tigers need his permission to send him to the minors, he'd have to say yes -- or forfeit that money.

And nothing we saw last night would do anything to change that opinion. It's peeking through your fingers as you're covering your eyes sort of stuff right now. Even Rick Knapp is now saying, "Okay, we'll try it your way," trying to find a comfort level for Willis, even if it means bringing back the "herky-jerky" that seemed to be the cause of so many of his problems.

The Tigers seem willing to let the D-Train try and work it out, and with just over two weeks left in Spring Training, they have the time for it. But you do have to wonder if Robertson has made a breakthrough, perhaps leaving Willis as the one who's now fighting for a job (and maybe even a roster spot).