With the announcement that Rick Porcello would be in the starting rotation to open the season while Drew Smyly was cast off to the bullpen, the Tigers cleared one of their only hurdles remaining between them and
a 3-0 record to open the year the start of the season. However, since we're inundating you with more content this week than you can shake a stick at, let's try to project exactly how this rotation is going to play out.
Justin Verlander will start today against the Philadelphia Phillies in a nationally televised Spring Training game. This puts him on track to start Monday's Opening Day game against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. We knew this would happen.
After that, it gets a bit tricky.
Anibal Sanchez starts tomorrow, which would set him up for a start on normal rest on Tuesday, April 2nd. Pending a Monday rain-out, this is an off day. Sanchez could start the second game of the season on Wednesday, April 3rd on an extra day's rest, or he could throw a bullpen session in Minnesota and be pushed back until as late as Sunday, April 7th. I doubt this will be the case, so expect to see Sanchez in Game 2 on five days' rest.
Max Scherzer will start on Friday, setting him up for a Thursday, April 4th start next week on an extra day's rest, similar to Sanchez. I don't see Leyland keeping Scherzer on his normal schedule at the expense of Sanchez, especially when Sanchez is a nice change-up (pun intended) between power pitchers Verlander and Scherzer for opposing lineups.
The reason why I don't see Leyland skipping Sanchez for Scherzer or Doug Fister is because of the Tigers' home opener on Friday, April 5th. Normally, the home opening start -- when not on Opening Day, that is -- is given to a pitcher who has "earned" the start, either by performance on the field or service to the club. Jim Leyland skipped Brad Penny's scheduled start in 2011 to give the honor to Max Scherzer. If Leyland keeps both Scherzer and Fister on normal rest, either Sanchez or Rick Porcello would be in line to pitch in the home opener. While Sanchez was excellent down the stretch, I'm willing to bet that Fister has earned the home opening start this season. Again, this will be on an extra day's rest.
To recap so far, we have Verlander on Monday, an off day on Tuesday, Sanchez on Wednesday, Scherzer on Thursday, and Fister in the home opener on Friday. So this means Rick Porcello against the Yankees on Saturday, right? Not so fast.
Porcello's start on Monday sets him up awkwardly for the start of the season without the typical exhibition against the Toledo Mud Hens on Opening Day Eve. He will probably throw a bullpen session over the weekend to keep himself fresh for his start against the Yankees on either Saturday or Sunday, depending on what Jim Leyland does with Verlander. Because of the off day, the ace could pitch again on Saturday on normal rest. Last season, Leyland pushed Porcello back in favor of keeping Verlander on a normal schedule. Verlander responded by throwing 8 1/3 innings against the Tampa Bay Rays in bizarre 4-2 Tigers loss.
Of course, knowing that there is going to be outdoor baseball played in Minnesota in early April, there is a good chance that Mother Nature intervenes and renders this entire post completely useless. Still, I'd rather have wasted 20 minutes of my life than see another game played in that godforsaken dump of a Metrodome.