Three trends emerge for Tigers in camp

Decisions loom as veteran pitchers struggle, while prospects step up

Three trends emerge for Tigers in camp

LAKELAND, Fla. -- The Tigers usually schedule one off-day in Spring Training, always with about a week and a half left before camp breaks, setting up organizational discussions and roster decisions for the final days before the season gets underway. This year, Detroit got a second off-day a couple weeks before that.

Given the procession of long afternoons, hitter-friendly counts, hitters walking to first base and high-scoring losses, the extra day was welcome for many, including manager Brad Ausmus.

Three-plus weeks remain in the Tigers' Grapefruit League schedule; that's plenty of time for opinions to change, Wednesday's off-day fell right around the halfway point of camp. Just over three weeks have passed since pitchers and catchers reported to Tigertown, and some of them will head north in about the same amount of time from now.

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Though general manager Al Avila spent part of his day Wednesday watching a group of Detroit prospects play an exhibition against Western Michigan University, he has plenty to weigh with his big league club. He has a better idea about his club than he did when camp opened, but he still has a lot to figure out before April 1.

Here's what has become apparent at the midway point of camp.

1. Difficult decisions loom on pitching
The Tigers have a staggering 6.93 ERA through 13 games. Yes, it's Spring Training, and as Justin Verlander reminded on Twitter, the games don't count. In that sense, it's a meaningless number. The concern for Detroit has to be the way the club got to that number.

Verlander fans two over three

While Verlander and Jordan Zimmermann look on a path to readiness, and youngsters have impressed, the three pitchers under sizable contracts who struggled last year -- Anibal SanchezMike Pelfrey and Mark Lowe -- have left people searching for signs of a turnaround so far this spring, combining for 18 earned runs on 24 hits over 11 1/3 innings. Their velocity, which was down last year from previous norms, is not up, though there's time for that.

They're certainly not alone in their struggles. Bruce Rondon, Shane Greene and Blaine Hardy all have gotten off to rough starts, at least results-wise. But Sanchez, Pelfrey and Lowe are guaranteed $30.3 million combined this season, not counting the $5 million buyout on Sanchez if the Tigers don't pick up his $16 million option for next year. If Detroit is going to make one more run at the playoffs with this team, it can't do it with all three struggling on its pitching staff. The Tigers need improvement, or playoff hopes and payroll reality are going to force a decision.

JaCoby Jones at Spring Training

2. The kids are all right
The bright side amid the 3-10 start is that the young players whose Major League readiness has been judged are looking better than many veterans. Daniel Norris rebounded from an inefficient first outing to become the first Tigers starter to complete three innings this spring, improving to 4 2/3 scoreless frames. Matt Boyd gave up four runs on six hits in his last outing, but he has avoided home runs and walks. Joe Jimenez is making his case to open the season in Detroit, striking out six batters over two innings. Michael Fulmer has three strikeouts over three scoreless innings. JaCoby Jones is making a push in center field, going 5-for-15 at the plate, while covering swaths of outfield territory. As the Tigers inch younger, there's talent at that end.

3. Nicholas Castellanos appears ready to emerge
Maybe Castellanos belongs in the youth category above, considering he just turned 25 ahead of his fourth Major League season. But the way he looks so far in camp suggest he's about to vault into the Tigers' veteran core. Castellanos' five hits in 16 at-bats include three doubles, none of them cheap. He has combined a leaner frame with an aggressive mentality to take the extra base, and he's defending at third base as if he has a point to prove. The idea of batting Castellanos second in the order in front of Miguel Cabrera, an idea Castellanos has lobbied for with Ausmus, has gone from seemingly creative thinking to a strong possibility.

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.