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The Return of Nate Robertson

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Guess who's coming to pitch on Saturday?

The Detroit Tigers made a rather surprising announcement before yesterday's game, scheduling Nate Robertson as Saturday night's starter versus the Tampa Bay Rays. Whose spot will he take in the starting rotation? Armando Galarraga was optioned to Triple-A Toledo, in order to rest an inflamed right elbow.

Robertson has pitched well on his rehab assignment with the Mud Hens, posting a 1.89 ERA in 19 innings. Perhaps most impressive is the 21 strikeouts he's thrown versus four walks. Robertson's last appearance was surely the one that indicated to the Tigers he was fully recovered from elbow surgery. In a start on Tuesday, he allowed three hits in 6.2 shutout innings, adding nine strikeouts and two walks. Saturday will be the first start he's made for Detroit since September 24 last year.

Galarraga was originally scheduled to pitch on Friday, but with Thursday's off-day, the Tigers can push Rick Porcello up from Saturday. And since Robertson only threw 68 pitches on Tuesday, he can apparently go on three days of rest, instead of the usual four.

Why not just put Galarraga on the disabled list? As Jason Beck explains, optioning him to the minors allows him to be called up once rosters can expand on September 1. And since Galarraga's elbow trouble isn't so serious as to require a 15-day recovery, this gives the Tigers a chance to give him a shorter rest.

But wait, doesn't Galarraga have to spend 10 days in the minors? And wouldn't that mean he isn't eligible to be on a possible playoff roster? Well, it's a bit complicated, but the answer appears to be no.

To the best of my understanding (and Billfer's explanation of playoff eligibility has become invaluable in just two days), Galarraga can be on the playoff roster because he would replace an injured player. In this case, it would be Joel Zumaya, who's playoff-eligible because he's on the DL, but is out for the rest of the season after undergoing shoulder surgery last week.

So if Robertson proves he can pitch capably, he'd likely be able to fill in at various spots in the rotation. That would allow the Tigers to reduce Porcello's workload, or perhaps give a short rest to Justin Verlander or Edwin Jackson, both of whom are nearing 200 innings.