LAKELAND, Fla. -- As questions from reporters go, Rick Porcello as a closer wasn't the craziest idea that manager Jim Leyland has ever heard. Judging by his answer on Monday, it wasn't even high up on the crazy list.
"I don't know that that's necessarily a wild thought," Leyland answered.
Whether it's realistic is another question. At this point, with about three and a half weeks of Spring Training left, it isn't in the works yet.
It wasn't on Porcello's mind after he tossed four scoreless innings against the Astros on Monday afternoon. He wasn't even thinking about trade rumors, or the scouts in the stands. The roster decisions are above his pay grade, he said before correcting himself and saying they're not his job.
"I've said it before -- I'm an established starter in the big leagues," Porcello said. "I believe that I'm going to go win the job, and that's it. I'll leave it at that."
Nevertheless, the closer comment was an interesting one from a manager who is historically not in the camp of baseball people who believe that any reliever can be a closer. Leyland said as far back as January that Porcello could land in the bullpen if he doesn't beat out second-year left-hander Drew Smyly for the fifth spot in the rotation, but closer wasn't a role that came up.
Porcello came to the Tigers as a hard-throwing high schooler, armed with a fastball consistently in the mid-90s. As a pro, he has been a sinkerballer who thrives on ground-ball outs when he's on and mixes in a power fastball to change a hitter's eye level. From a "pure stuff" standpoint, it would be interesting to see how that might change if he pitched in short relief. His only bullpen experience has been in the postseason.
A closer doesn't necessarily have to be a high-velocity, high-strikeout pitcher -- such veteran relievers as Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman have proven that over the years. If they're not, though, they'd better have a dominant primary pitch.
Fausto Carmona, now known as Roberto Hernandez, started his Major League career as a hard-throwing reliever with the Indians in 2006 but didn't have that out pitch. The next year, Cleveland moved him into the rotation, where he became a far more successful sinkerballer on the American League Central title team that came within a win of making it to the World Series. His career has been up and down ever since, and he's now in camp with the Rays. The sinkerballing styles are somewhat similar, though the velocities are not.
Porcello is scheduled to get more starts than any other Tiger this spring, giving the team -- and scouts from other clubs -- every chance to evaluate him. For Detroit to even think about him as a short reliever would almost surely end the trade speculation, because it would end the starts. He would have to get some preparation time.