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Back of rotation on front burner for Tigers

Back of rotation on front burner for Tigers

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By the end of the week, those back fields on the Tigertown campus in Lakeland, Fla., are going to have pitchers running to cover bases on defensive drills.

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The pop of catching mitts will again be coming from the bullpen mounds nearby, lined up eight pitchers deep.

And with the Tigers' first formal Spring Training workout Friday morning, the cruel Michigan winter will hopefully seem a little bit closer to an end. With it, too, the lingering pain of the Tigers' 2009 season finale will seem a little more distant.

It's the last time the Tigers took the field together, but that's about to change.

Many players have been in Lakeland, Fla., working out on their own at the Tigertown complex. Among them are Jeremy Bonderman and Joel Zumaya, two key pitchers trying to bounce back from their injury-shortened 2009 campaigns. Justin Verlander lives in Lakeland for most of the winter, so he's basically commuting from home. Catcher Gerald Laird planned to arrive soon after the start of February to begin working with pitchers and setting up an important camp for himself in the last year of his contract.

One by one, players have been trickling in since soon after the holiday season ended. Friday will mark the first organized workout together for pitchers and catchers, followed by the first full-squad workout next Tuesday.

From there, the milestones will start falling quickly. Just a week after the first full-squad workout, the Tigers will begin Spring Training games with their annual exhibition against nearby Florida Southern College at Joker Marchant Stadium. A day later, they'll start facing big leaguers with a visit to Dunedin, Fla., to face the Toronto Blue Jays.

From there come cutdown days, split squads, simulated games, Spring Training games on television, more cutdowns, then the rush for the Opening Day roster.

By the time the Tigers leave Florida on April 1 for their two exhibition games at Milwaukee, they hope to answer their most pressing questions, from figuring out the top two spots in their order -- Johnny Damon could help decide that shortly -- to determining a fifth starter, to sorting out a crowded bullpen. All the while, they'll be watching every move, every grimace from Bonderman, Zumaya, Brandon Inge and Scott Sizemore to see if they'll be healthy in time for the regular-season opener April 5 at Kansas City.

They'll be watching Sizemore, too, to see how well the rookie second baseman fits with shortstop Adam Everett as a double-play duo, and how well he holds his own at the plate. Same goes for Austin Jackson, who has a chance to capture the center-field job as well as a coveted spot at or near the top of the order.

They're among the many new faces of the Tigers, as are new closer Jose Valverde, gifted starter Max Scherzer, potential-laden reliever Daniel Schlereth and even catcher Alex Avila, who made his first impression down the stretch last season, but now faces the heavy workload of learning the Tigers staff.

It formally starts Friday. With it, the end to the Michigan winter unofficially becomes visible.

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

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