Villarreal can command his future

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Brayan Villarreal says his arm is fine after cutting short his winter ball season in Venezuela as a precaution due to elbow soreness. Now that he's full-go in his throwing program, his command is his priority as he tries to sew up a spot in the bullpen.

The Tigers know what he can do when he's on, having seen his impact during the summer. They also know what he can do if his command is out of whack, which the stretch run showed before the Tigers left him off the postseason roster.

"He has shown some bigtime signs at times," manager Jim Leyland said, "and he has shown some signs of being erratic at times."

Villarreal is one of 15 "legitimate candidates" for the bullpen, by Leyland's count. That includes pitchers with relief spots wrapped up, such as Joaquin Benoit, Octavio Dotel and Phil Coke. That also is believed to include Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly, who could end up in the bullpen depending on which one of them wins the fifth starter role.

Villarreal has one of the more electric arms, but not one of the more consistent ones. He planned on working on that in winter ball, but was shut down after just three innings due to the elbow concern.

"I've just been working on my mechanics and with men on base," Villarreal said on Sunday morning. "I was going to work on that [in winter ball], but I didn't have time. That was what I had in mind."