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Spring Training unlikely to resolve closer role


LAKELAND, Fla. -- Four years ago, Tigers manager Jim Leyland left Spring Training saying Fernando Rodney would be his closer on Opening Day, but not guaranteeing anything beyond that. In fact, he suggested that other pitchers could end up closing games. But Rodney ended up with 37 saves in a breakout season.

The way Leyland is talking now, don't be surprised if his message is the same once the Tigers wrap up this year's camp -- even if right-hander Bruce Rondon wins the first chance at closing.

It is not Rondon's job to lose, Leyland cautioned. He's not going to put that kind of pressure on the 22-year-old. Yet it's hard to guarantee it's a job for one pitcher to definitively win, at least publicly.

"Hopefully I have a lead Opening Day, and you'll see somebody pitching," Leyland said. "I doubt very much that there'll be anybody anointed out of Spring Training as the closer. Is it a possibility? Yes."

When asked about left-hander Phil Coke's struggles against right-handed hitters and what he needed to do to reverse the trend, Leyland initially took it as a question about Coke potentially closing. But after saying Coke would not be the closer, Leyland added that Coke could get chances based on matchups.

"I think he'll probably close some games," Leyland said. "I'm not saying he won't close games, but I would not start anointing anybody as our closer just yet, because we don't have one just yet."

Coke, of course, picked up two saves in the American League Championship Series in Jose Valverde's stead. He didn't get a chance to save a game in the World Series, but his situation and the matchups with Giants hitters made him a likely candidate if the Tigers had a save situation.

"I think it's really a front-burner thing that's on the back burner," Leyland said.

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