Tigers may begin trip short on pitchers

Tigers may begin trip short on pitchers

DETROIT -- Tigers manager Jim Leyland used to say that he'd rather go with 13 pitchers on the roster than 11, or one too many relievers than one too few. But when decision time came this week with the Aubrey Huff trade, he chose one less pitcher over one less role player.

That could change soon.

"I don't want to go all the way out on the [West] Coast and get caught short," Leyland said. "But with all the moves we make over the course of the game, I don't want to miss a defensive replacement."

Slowly but surely, the Tigers have somehow racked up a lot of those replacements between deals and DL moves over the past few weeks. Ryan Raburn, when he isn't starting, often replaces Marcus Thames in left field or Magglio Ordonez in right with a late-inning lead. Clete Thomas can do the same on games when a left-handed starting pitcher or another pitching matchup keeps him out of the lineup.

Thames, when he doesn't start, provides a right-handed power bat off the bench, and he's out of Minor League options. Ramon Santiago and Alex Avila are the lone backups at shortstop and catcher, respectively.

Thus, at least for the moment, the Tigers took out a piece of their pitching depth rather than their positional depth, essentially trusting that their rotation can cover a good number of innings and avoid a tight spot like last week, when Rick Porcello's ejection and Armando Galarraga's illness left them scrambling for a pitcher.

The Tigers went through Chris Lambert and Zach Miner during that ordeal before replacing Lambert with Eddie Bonine. He went the entire three-game series against the Royals last weekend without an appearance before he was optioned back to Triple-A Toledo to make room for Huff. Miner, meanwhile, hasn't pitched in a week since his spot start last Wednesday at the Red Sox.

If something were to come up at home, the Tigers can usually make a quick roster move to bring up somebody from Toledo and have them up that day. Even though the Mud Hens were on the road Wednesday, they were at Columbus, Ohio, just an hour and a half further away from Detroit than Toledo.

Once the Tigers head to California Thursday night, however, that luxury is gone.

"I'd hate, for traveling purposes as much as anything, to get out there and need a pitcher once we get there," Leyland said.

Porcello didn't last through the sixth inning Tuesday, but Ryan Perry's four outs proved critical in making up the gap. Those performances, too, make a little difference in whether a team can get by with six relievers. With Perry allowing a 2.57 ERA and striking out 15 batters in 14 innings since his recall from Triple-A Toledo July 18, and Fu-Te Ni scattering two earned runs over 11 1/3 innings in his past 10 outings, the Tigers have some success in middle and multi-inning relief.

That still might not allow them to go short for long. Leyland just has to figure out how to get back to normal first.

"Who would I be sending out is the question," Leyland said.

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