NEW YORK -- Duane Below thought he had blown his chance at cracking the Tigers' rotation with a wild outing at the end of Spring Training. As long as Doug Fister remains out, Below is getting another shot.
After taking a day to mull it over, manager Jim Leyland announced Friday that Below will start in Fister's place Monday against the Royals. Unless something unforeseen happen, Below will likely remain in the rotation until Fister comes back.
"We weighed all our options," Leyland said, "and after discussing that yesterday for a long time, we decided that until Fister comes back, that's probably the best way to go."
It's the way they nearly went to start the season until Drew Smyly won the fifth-starter's job out of camp. Below was optioned to Triple-A Toledo briefly until Luis Marte landed on the disabled list with a strained left hamstring on his last day of camp.
Below picked up wins in each of his first two long relief outings in a season-opening sweep of the Red Sox. He still shares the team lead in wins with Justin Verlander, while Below has yet to surrender a run over 12 innings of seven-hit ball with no walks and nine strikeouts.
It's the type of pitching Below was seeking when he was fighting for a rotation spot. Now that he's starting again, he hopes to take some of the lessons he has learned in long relief.
"I'm trying to stay ready, making sure my mind's in the game at all times and keeping my presence on the game itself rather than wandering off, because you never know in the bullpen when I was going to go in, or when I'd be needed," Below said. "That's the biggest thing, staying focused."
At this point, Below seems likely to get at least two starts. Though Fister said Friday he felt great after throwing 50 pitches off the mound the day before, he and Tigers head athletic trainer Kevin Rand said there are no plans on the next step.
Given how much time Fister has missed -- he was injured three weeks ago Saturday -- he seems likely to need a Minor League rehab assignment.
"I would think so at this point," Leyland said. "I would assume that he's going to have to make one start for sure."