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Not yet a contender

Not yet a contender
DETROIT -- There are some interesting decisions to be made by the Detroit Tigers in regard to pitching.

Armando Galarraga, Edwin Jackson and Justin Verlander are set at the top of the rotation, but is rookie Rick Porcello ready to stick in the majors? And will Zach Miner stay a starter?

My hunch is that if Dontrelle Willis looks good in tonight's rehabilitation assignment start for Toledo, he soon will get one last crack at showing he can do the job in Detroit. Miner likely will go to the bullpen in that case.

Porcello (1-3, 6.23 ERA) should get a bit longer to sort things out because he has a devastating sinker and a professional approach that belies his age of 20. But if he can't make hitters respect his breaking ball or changeup, working out those pitches in the minors might be necessary. There is no way to survive in the majors without being able to keep hitters off balance.

Just mentioning a return by Willis makes most Tigers fans cringe. He's on the disabled list because of an anxiety order and has yet to win a game in Detroit after coming from the Florida Marlins in a blockbuster trade that included Miguel Cabrera after the 2007 season.

There is something about Willis' pitching trials that unglues the Tigers , because so often he's put them too far behind too early. He must show he can help Detroit win, and quickly, or the Tigers should eat his hefty salary and release him.

Nobody is going to trade for Willis with $22 million due him for the rest of this season and 2010, and any more chances beyond this one seem futile.

You ask, what about Jeremy Bonderman?

Bonderman still isn't getting the velocity required on pitches and has yet to begin his rehabilitation assignment in Lakeland. The damaged nerve from surgery required late last June on his shoulder can take as much as a full year to heal, and there's no telling when this once-durable starter will be ready.

Don't count him out for later this season. But, also, don't count on him.

Miner (2-1, 6.00 ERA) gives Tigers manager Jim Leyland the flexibility to be patient and weigh the options of Willis and Bonderman. But I have a gut feeling that Miner belongs in the rotation and will provide the reliability required of back-of-the-rotation starters. Flash is not required there, but disasters can't be tolerated.

The bullpen is better than last year, but it couldn't have been much worse.

Fernando Rodney has converted all four save opportunities, but has gone from lights-out at the start to a little bit scary of late.

Southpaw Bobby Seay hasn't given up a run yet and has been a huge plus.

Ryan Perry, 22, has shown that he's very hard to hit but is walking more than one batter per inning. The Tigers are willing to ride the rapids with him for now. But if he has many more games like the wild ones against the Yankees, the minors could be the place for him to work out those control issues.

But will that really do any good? Perry says he often gets too "amped up" by facing the Derek Jeters of the game, but there is no way to get over that in Toledo. We shall see.

Joel Zumaya has been sharp in two outings since returning from his injury rehab assignment, and what he does when getting into pressurized setup or closing situations will determine just how vital he becomes.

Is he ready to come through with that great promise shown in 2006, or not?

Brandon Lyon has been disappointing as a $4.25 million free agent signing and hasn't shown he can be trusted with the game on the line.

Nate Robertson has shown promise since being moved to the bullpen but also has yet to show reliability. Does he get another crack at starting somewhere down the line or will this be his niche?

Juan Rincon hasn't proven up to anything beyond middle relief, and Clay Rapada had a bad first outing after being recalled from the Mud Hens.

Detroit's earned run average is 4.29, and that ranks 13th among major league clubs. That's a big improvement over the 4.90 and 27th ranking of last year, and new pitching coach Rick Knapp has smoothed out the deliveries of several pitchers.

But more is required to become a serious playoff contender, and putting the right pieces in place will be crucial to that goal.

Author:Fox Sports
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Added: May 2, 2009

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