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Bringing the Bullpen into Focus

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Catching up on some news from the weekend, the Detroit Tigers' final 25-man roster is beginning to take shape. And with two weeks left in Spring Training, some of the tough decisions that were facing Jim Leyland are now being made.

Perhaps the most pleasant surprise of the Grapefruit League season is how well the bullpen has performed. Other than the attention Ryan Perry has been getting, raising plenty of eyebrows among those who hadn't seen him pitch before, the relievers have mostly been granted a low profile, hiding underneath the fifth starting pitcher competition.

One of the relievers who looked like he'd be going north with the major leaguers was Casey Fien, who's totaled seven strikeouts and one walk in his 7.1 innings this spring. He's also impressed Tigers coaches with his control, and that looked to be a determining factor in his winning a spot on the major league roster. However, despite three apparent openings in Detroit's bullpen (with Joel Zumaya being hurt), Fien won't be going north with the team. At least for now.

Fien, along with Freddy Dolsi and Fu-Te Ni, were cut from major league camp yesterday. All three are expected to begin the season with the Toledo Mud Hens (Dolsi was optioned to Triple-A yesterday, while Fien and Ni were reassigned to minor league camp), and will probably see some time in Detroit this season when the need arises.

The revival of Juan Rincon, a likely preference for a second left-hander to go along with Bobby Seay, and the fast rise of Perry all surely contributed to Fien getting squeezed out of the bullpen mix. But Jim Leyland says that he's still not a finished product and is maybe one pitch away from being in the majors.

"The only thing that he needs to do to get to the big leagues -- actually pretty quick, I think -- is refine his breaking ball a little bit," manager Jim Leyland said. "He'll be a big league pitcher no matter what, probably, but he'll have more success if he gets a little better breaking ball."

Dolsi also needs to work on his breaking ball and "learn some pitchability," according to Leyland. Add Ni to that category, too.

So where does this leave the Tigers' bullpen? I think Lee and Kurt both have it right. Brandon Lyon, Fernando Rodney, and Bobby Seay were already assured of their spots. Rincon might be the surprise of Lakeland, having not allowed a run this spring (probably just jinxed him), and looks to have won a set-up role. Clay Rapada is probably going to be that second lefty (and maybe the bullpen's true left-handed specialist). Zach Miner hasn't pitched well, and as a result, is probably slotted into that Jason Grilli-Aquilino Lopez (oof!) long relief role.

And that final spot will likely go to Ryan Perry, who seems ideally suited as the strikeout guy that would've been Zumaya, had he been healthy. How soon the breakout of '06 gets overtaken by the breakout of '09, eh?

Perhaps there could still be a surprise, if the Tigers feel Scott Williamson could make a contribution and would thus keep Perry in the minors to get just a bit more seasoning. But Leyland seems fine with Perry's "pitchability," and if Williamson is willing to begin the season with Toledo, maybe he'd be the first guy called up in case of injury or poor performance. (He could be the 2009 Gary Glover!)

So what do you think? No visa problems, no failed comebacks, no desperate hope for someone to replace Rodney and Zumaya. Do you feel better about this bullpen than whatever it was the Tigers tried to employ last season?