Tigers preparing to trim down roster

Tigers preparing to trim down roster

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- By the time the Tigers play their next home game Wednesday afternoon, manager Jim Leyland says, they'll have their 25-man roster. But it won't be easy, for the guys making the decisions or the guys for which decisions must be made.

As the Tigers bus prepared to pull away from Dunedin Stadium Monday afternoon, Leyland was already anticipating sitting down with his boss, team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski and his coaching staff shortly. Each person will fill out a list of players for what they think the 25-man roster should be, then hand them in.

Many of the same names will show up on each list, especially considering that the starting lineup and most of the pitching staff is set. Then some names will show up on some ballots but not others.

That's where the discussions among the staff will begin, explaining certain choices. And that's where the decisions on the Tigers roster get interesting.

"I will tell you this: After everybody turns in their piece of paper, there will be discussions," Leyland said. "And I like that."

Leyland likes to hear opposing viewpoints. He has had a 25-man roster in his head since at least the weekend, but he likes to hear others sell their reasons why a certain player should be on the team. That's why they fill out rosters on pieces of paper and then discuss, so that nobody feels pressured to simply go along with what the manager says.

Around the same time those discussions are taking place, Don Kelly, Clete Thomas and Jeff Larish will be preparing for another day of work Tuesday, and trying to keep their future out of their mind. They'll be trying to avoid a sleepless night with the belief that they've done everything they can to put themselves on the club.

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"You prepare, you play as well as you can, and that's all you can do," Kelly said as the utility man packed his five gloves into his bag for the ride home. "You can't sit up at night worrying about it, because that's not going to do anything to help.

"Everything's determined out there [on the field]. If you prepare and leave it all out on the field, whether you make the team or you don't, there's nothing that can be said. That's just how life is."

Thomas was thinking the same thing as he sat in his locker at Dunedin Stadium with his shoulder wrapped. He was having an outstanding camp by any standards until a fastball off his shoulder blade last Friday caused a deep bone bruise that has sidelined him since. He can hit, he said, but his throwing is making slower progress.

He should be fine for Opening Day next week. He just has to find out where he's going to open the season.

"I'm just going to go out there and do what I know how to do when I play," Thomas said. "If they need to go in a different direction, then that's what they need. I feel I've had a pretty good spring. We'll see what happens. Either way, I just want to play. Obviously, I want to play in the big leagues."

Kelly started Monday against the Blue Jays in center field, then shifted to first base later in the game once Miguel Cabrera was done for the day. Kelly went 2-for-4 to improve his average to .358 for the spring. Larish started in left field and stayed there the whole game.

Alex Avila started at DH and went 2-for-3 with a double and a walk in what should be his final action before he finds out where he'll open the season. The Tigers know he can hit in the big leagues, and his .394 average this spring hasn't disappointed. The decision -- or more appropriately, the discussion -- will involve whether he's better off catching twice a week in Detroit or every day in Toledo for his development.

They'll probably find out their fates Tuesday morning, when Leyland expects to reduce the roster to 26. He hopes to have the final two spots in the rotation announced Wednesday or Thursday. That doesn't necessarily mean that the one extra player on the roster Tuesday will be one of the starters, since the odd man out could possibly still make the team as a reliever.

Two of the three rotation candidates start Tuesday. While Jeremy Bonderman starts in a Triple-A game at Tigertown, Dontrelle Willis will be with the big club facing the Orioles Tuesday afternoon in Sarasota, Fla. It'll be his first road start this spring, and it'll be a good test if the Tigers needed it in their decisions.

Nate Robertson is scheduled to make his final spring tuneup Thursday against the Braves at Joker Marchant Stadium. By then, the decision will most likely have been made. What happens with the guy who doesn't make the rotation, whoever that is, is another matter.

Once it's all done, it'll be a good day for Leyland, who has come to accept how these discussions and the forthcoming meetings with players go. He has sounded in recent days like somebody who has his decisions made and is ready to discuss them and then move onto the regular season.

Some guys will be happy. Others will not. Leyland, to some extent, will be relieved.

"By the time [Tuesday comes], we'll be down to probably one [extra] guy," Leyland said. "So the waiting's almost over."

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