Notes: Six contenders for fifth spot

Notes: Six contenders for fifth starter's spot

LAKELAND, Fla. -- The competition for the Tigers' fifth starter spot not only hasn't whittled down, it has actually grown.

Earlier this month, manager Jim Leyland said he had about four pitchers in mind for the fifth spot. On Monday, he confirmed five and said he could have a sixth in contention. Three contestants pitched Monday afternoon.

Justin Verlander wasn't necessarily sharp, walking four batters in three innings of work against the Phillies at Clearwater, but his only damage was a Ryan Howard solo homer in the second inning. Meanwhile, Wilfredo Ledezma was the opposite in Lakeland against the Pirates, who hit him for four earned runs on six hits in 2 2/3 innings. He walked only one batter, hoping to set up a double play with the bases loaded in the third, but he fell behind several others and struggled after back-to-back errors from Chris Shelton and Brandon Inge in the third.

The bright side for Ledezma was good movement on his curveball, which earned him two called third strikes.

"He threw some good pitches early that got called balls," Wilson said, "and it just seemed we got in some bad counts because of that. No offense to the umpire. I thought he threw the ball better than his line showed, for sure."

The performance of the day came from Jason Grilli, fresh from representing Italy in the World Baseball Classic. He followed Verlander with four scoreless innings on one hit with two walks and a strikeout.

Earlier in the day, Leyland confirmed Grilli is a candidate for the opening, along with Verlander, Ledezma, Roman Colon and Joel Zumaya. Colon threw his strongest outing of the spring Sunday with three scoreless innings against the Blue Jays on two hits. Zumaya pitches again Tuesday against the Indians, following Kenny Rogers.

Leyland didn't identify the possible sixth candidate, but only a few other pitchers have been stretched to starting capacity thus far this spring. Though Jordan Tata hasn't pitched above Class A ball, h eimpressed Leyland with 2 2/3 scoreless innings Friday against the Dodgers, and has yet to give up an earned run in 5 2/3 innings this spring. He's scheduled to start Thursday against the Nationals.

Colby Lewis pitched three innings of relief Monday against the Pirates, giving up his first runs of the spring. Preston Larrison tossed 2 1/3 scoreless innings Saturday against the Twins.

Monroe's return still muddled: Craig Monroe took batting practice for the second consecutive day Monday and Dmitri Young hit off a tee after running, a sign of progress for both, but there's no timetable for a return on either player.

Monroe took batting practice for a second day Monday and felt like he could "find a way" to play if necessary. "I'm crushing," he said. "I feel great. Now it's basically [a question of] running."

It's a question Leyland hopes doesn't linger much longer. If Monroe isn't healthy enough to return by this point next week, Leyland said, he might have to be a candidate for the disabled list because he wouldn't have enough time to prepare.

"I don't know if we're getting to the point where you're thinking DL or not," he said. "I'm not going to have somebody active if they're only going to have 10 or 15 at-bats under their belts in Spring Training."

Dingman to have surgery Wednesday: Craig Dingman is scheduled to undergo artery bypass surgery Wednesday morning in St. Louis. Dr. Robert Thompson, who earlier this month performed surgery on Pirates pitcher Kip Wells to repair an artery blocked by a blood clot, will perform Dingman's procedure, as well.

Dingman's surgery is different and believed to be a first among Major Leaguers. The operation will take an artery from one of his legs and insert it into his shoulder, thus allowing blood to flow around the original artery that had been damaged by movement in Dingman's shoulder capsule.

No timetable is known on Dingman, and probably won't be even after he's examined when the surgery is finished, according to head athletic trainer Kevin Rand.

Sleeth sent down: The expected move Leyland talked about Sunday wasn't a surprise. Former first-round pick Kyle Sleeth was optioned to Class A Lakeland so he could continue his rehab process in Minor League camp.

Sleeth underwent Tommy John surgery last June. He's been throwing bullpen sessions twice a week, but only fastballs and changeups while he strengthens his arm. He'll still be working his way back when the Minor League season starts.

"We're taking our time with him," Rand said. "He's too valuable a prospect not to take your time with him. We want to make sure everything's done right and he can come back as well as can be expected."

Infante back: Omar Infante returned to the lineup Monday after missing the previous five days with tendinitis in his throwing shoulder. He went 1-for-3 at the plate and started at second base against the Pirates, turning a double play to end the fourth inning.

Another highlight for Clevlen: Up to this point, Brent Clevlen was making a name for himself in camp with his bat. On Monday, he might have provided the highlight of the game against the Pirates.

With Freddy Sanchez on third base and one out, Clevlen caught a Brad Eldred pop fly in medium-depth center field. When Sanchez took off for the plate, Clevlen fired a hard throw to catcher Vance Wilson on a line and without a bounce. Wilson fielded the ball in front of the plate and dove back in time to tag Sanchez and end the inning.

"He threw a rocket," Wilson said. "He's a heck of a player."

Coming up: The Tigers have their full squad back in Lakeland on Tuesday to take on Cleveland at 1:05 p.m. ET. Zumaya will make his third outing as his audition for a roster spot rolls on. He'll follow starter Kenny Rogers before Humberto Sanchez, Lee Gardner and Eulogio De La Cruz take over. Jeremy Sowers, Steve Karsay, Danny Graves and Jeremy Guthrie are scheduled to pitch for the Indians.

Jason Beck is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.