By Sean Gagnier
Coming into spring training the Tigers had five different candidates to evaluate for the No. 5 spot in their starting pitching rotation; left-handed pitcher Andy Oliver, LHP Duane Below, LHP Drew Smyly, LHP Casey Crosby and RHP Jacob Turner. Most teams across the league would love to be in the Tigers situation, having nothing else to worry about on their roster other than which young talented pitcher will be the No. 5 pitcher.
At the beginning of spring it was anyone's guess as to which pitcher would be tapped to be the No. 5 or if Detroit would simply just go out and trade for a veteran. Turner's name popped up early, he faired well in his few spot starts in the majors last season but so far this spring he hasn't done as well. In his four innings pitched he has a 3.00 WHIP and an 11.25 ERA. His six walks of the spring are an indication that he doesn't have as good of control as he did last season and will most likely begin the season in Toledo.
Drew Smyly was the next "probable" No. 5 - he was a lefty, he had solid stuff and General Manager Dave Dombrowski has an affinity for promoting players to the majors from Double-A. Smyly has struggled to get innings this spring, having appeared in just two games and started only one. However, he has still gathered four inning of work and in that time posted a 1.25 WHIP, slightly higher than one would like, and a 2.25 ERA. With a 1/3 BB/K rate Smyly could still be a dark horse for the No. 5 spot, but more likely than not he will be bumped from Double-A Erie to Triple-A Toledo after the spring.
The player who has stood out the most this spring has been Andy Oliver. Oliver has had time in the majors before but has never been able to make it stick, but that may be changing this spring in Lakeland, Fla. Despite having not yet started a game this spring, Oliver has amassed seven innings of work and recorded a 0.57 WHIP and a perfect 0.00 ERA. He has shown that he has control of his pitches having walked three batters and fanned five. His GO/AO, ground outs/air outs, is 0.88 which is an indication that he has his pitches biting and is getting opponents to hit ground balls to the infielders.
Manager Jim Leyland said that the control that Oliver has demonstrated so far this spring is more impressive than what he showed in the majors in the past. Leyland said Oliver was "getting better. No question."