Miner's long-term status up in the air

Miner's long-term status up in the air

DETROIT -- One of the Tigers' surprise starters, Armando Galarraga, is all but set for next year's rotation. Zach Miner, however, raises a slightly different question, one that doesn't have an answer yet.

After beginning the season as one of the Tigers' middle relievers and eventually seeing some setup work, Miner has become a second-half sensation in the Detroit rotation, reprising the role he filled admirably two summers ago during the Tigers' run into the postseason. A struggling stretch near the end of that summer knocked him out of the rotation around mid-August. That won't be happening this time around.

As for what that means for the Tigers' rotation next year -- and Miner's future in general -- it's too soon to tell.

"He's pitching better than some of the guys that we've got," manager Jim Leyland said. "It depends on what our pitching staff looks like next year."

The Tigers have plenty of decisions looming on starters this offseason -- some of them currently on the club, some of them not. Kenny Rogers, who weighed retirement against a return to Detroit last winter, will face a similar choice this offseason. Dontrelle Willis is trying to hone his command in the Minors in hopes of being ready to rejoin the big club next year. New addition Freddy Garcia is signed only for this year, with no guarantee that he'll be called up by season's end, but a strong finish could put him in line to be signed for 2009.

Then there's Miner, who's 3-1 with a 2.15 ERA in five starts this season, covering 29 1/3 innings. From the end of the 2006 season until earlier this year, club officials said his future seemed to fit best in the bullpen. That mind-set that didn't change until the Tigers gave him a shot in the rotation following solid starts at Triple-A Toledo, where he was learning to throw all of his pitches again.

"I think he's a big league pitcher," Leyland said, "and right now he's starting."

Publicly, at least, Miner isn't lobbying either way, as long as it's in the big leagues.

"Pitching's pitching," Miner said.

That said, Miner's pitching has helped determine the Tigers' momentum on the days in which he has started. Detroit is 3-2 in his starts; the only other Tigers starters behind which the team has winning records are Galarraga (15-6) and Eddie Bonine (3-2).

Even as the Tigers celebrated their win on Saturday night, Leyland pointed to Miner as the key for Sunday.

"It'll all be dictated by Zach Miner," Leyland said as he spoke of his decisions to rest Carlos Guillen and Magglio Ordonez on Sunday. "If Zach pitches good, we'll have a chance. If he doesn't, we won't."

Pitching matchup
DET: RHP Zach Miner (6-4, 3.41 ERA)
Miner had another strong outing in his last start, allowing one earned run on five hits in six innings against the Blue Jays. He earned a no-decision, though, as the bullpen couldn't hold a late lead. In his five starts, Miner has a 3-1 record and a 2.15 ERA. He has not faced the Orioles this season, but has two career relief appearances against them.

BAL: LHP Garrett Olson (8-6, 6.06 ERA)
Olson has hit the skids in a big way, allowing at least five runs in six of his past eight starts. The southpaw has a 6.95 ERA in his six starts after the All-Star break and has pitched to a 4-5 record and a 6.83 mark on the road. The Orioles are poised to stick with him, though, and Olson will get a chance to redeem himself against Detroit.

Leyland will rest Guillen on Sunday after his return to game action on Saturday in order to avoid aggravating the back problems that had kept him out the past three games. With a day game after a night game and a road trip to Texas awaiting, Leyland won't risk it. ... Leyland said he plans to start Brandon Inge at third base on Sunday, giving Dane Sardinha the start at catcher. ... The Tigers have won 10 of their past 11 Sunday games after going winless on Sundays for the first two months of the season.

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Up next
• Monday: Tigers (Kenny Rogers, 8-10, 4.95) at Rangers (Scott Feldman, 4-5, 5.18), 8:05 p.m. ET
• Tuesday: Tigers (Armando Galarraga, 11-4, 3.11) at Rangers (Vicente Padilla, 12-6, 4.85), 8:05 p.m. ET
• Wednesday: Tigers (Nate Robertson, 7-9, 5.87) at Rangers (Kevin Millwood, 6-7, 5.58), 8:05 p.m. ET

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