Though Smyly pitched in relief Thursday against the Athletics, inheriting a bases-loaded jam in the ninth inning of the Tigers' 12-4 loss, Leyland all but wrote him in after the game for a fill-in start.
"I don't say he will for sure, but most likely he'll be the starter on Sunday," Leyland said. "We weren't going to pitch him much [Thursday]."
That could change if Scherzer is evaluated on Friday and reports no more soreness in the deltoid area around his shoulder, where he felt fatigue in the second inning of his start Tuesday night. Still, it doesn't sound like the Tigers are preparing for good news.
Smyly hasn't started since Aug. 25, when he made a spot start in place of then-injured Doug Fister and turned in a quality outing with six innings and one earned run. He has made four relief appearances since then, allowing three runs on three hits with six strikeouts over 3 2/3 innings.
What happens after Sunday is a big question, and not just for health reasons. Leyland slotted out his rotation weeks ago in an order that put Scherzer in line to pitch the regular-season finale and Verlander in line to open the postseason. There's no guarantee Leyland can preserve that pitching order. If Scherzer's ready to pitch early next week, the Tigers have a decision to make.