LAKELAND, Fla. -- The Tigers' rotation picture, and the decisions manager Jim Leyland has left to make about it before Opening Day, are starting to become a little clearer. And at least for the start of the season, it's going to be limited to a four-man rotation.
It was already known that Justin Verlander will start Opening Day on March 31 at Yankee Stadium, and Max Scherzer will start the home opener April 8. On Thursday, Leyland said that Rick Porcello will start the series opener at Baltimore on April 4.
Add in Verlander's second start, either for the second or third game of the Orioles' series, and Scherzer's first start against the Yankees on April 3, and that leaves two remaining games for two starters on top of two off-days. Those are too many variables for Leyland to work a five-man rotation.
"It's not a demotion or anything," Leyland said, "but you can't start five guys."
If the schedule plays out without any postponements or injuries, the Tigers wouldn't need a fifth starter until April 10 at Comerica Park. They don't have another off-day for a while, so they'll be on turn after that.
By process of elimination, that would leave Phil Coke and Brad Penny to slot in. One of them would presumably get the two starts, with the other one working out of the bullpen for opening week. It would be ironic if Coke began the season in the bullpen, where he worked all of last year before he started the season finale in Baltimore, but he has more recent relief experience than Penny, who last pitched out of the bullpen as a member of the Dodgers in 2008.
The Tigers won't leave the fifth starter back in Spring Training. A weather postponement in New York or Baltimore that burns a starter could force them to use a fifth starter sooner than planned.
"Somebody's going to be skipped," Leyland said, "but they're going to be with the club."