April 13, 2010 at 5:17 pm

Lynn Henning

One week in, Tigers have plenty of concerns

Rick Porcello is one of only two Tigers starting pitchers with a victory. (John T. Greilick/The Detroit News)

Detroit -- Sorting through the good and bad from the Tigers' first week tells us a few things about Jim Leyland's team in 2010:

  • The good: Rick Porcello could be an All-Star as early as this season. The back end of the bullpen is as tough as an Army truck. Magglio Ordonez and Miguel Cabrera will be every pitcher's nightmare. And the kid in center field, Austin Jackson, is showing people in Detroit what he showed us in Florida. He's incredibly talented, and he's all of 23.

  • The bad: Porcello is one of only two starters with a victory. The bullpen has been getting chewed up because starters have been punching out early, as happened again Monday in a rancid 10-5 loss to the Royals at Comerica Park. Max Scherzer vacated after five innings and the left-handed relievers promptly failed, notably Brad Thomas.

    The rotation headaches should subside when Justin Verlander comes around and Scherzer pitches better than he did Monday, all of which seems inevitable. That, in turn, will take some heat off the relievers.

    But the offense has its issues, as well. The Tigers have gotten zero run production from their catchers, making it doubly tough on a team when its starting shortstop, Adam Everett, isn't a hitter. Toss in the team's anticipated lack of muscle -- five home runs in seven games -- and you can see why the season will yet turn ticklish for the Tigers.

    Obviously, not all of these early trends will hold. It was why Al Kaline was stopped on his way out of the clubhouse following Monday's 3 1/2 -hour ordeal, a game so gruesome it looked as if it had been thrown through a wood-chipper.

    Plenty of questions

    Kaline might strike some as anything but an independent critic. He has been a part of the Tigers for 57 years. He's a special assistant to Dave Dombrowski, the team's president and general manager.

    And yet anyone who follows baseball in Detroit understands Kaline levels about his team and the way it plays a game that is bigger than the Tigers.

    "I like the makeup," Kaline said, talking about the roster. "Our pitching's gonna be good. And the hitting's gonna be consistent. The only question is, if they get behind, they don't have the bombers to score a lot of quick runs."

    In fact, only three Tigers have hit home runs. Cabrera and Ordonez have two each, Carlos Guillen added one Monday. Without homers, it's tough to craft big innings that keep an opposing team on its heels.

    Hitting, though, figures to be more of an issue later on, after the Tigers have gone against championship-caliber teams, which, in all fairness, Kansas City and Cleveland are not.

    For now -- no surprise -- pitching has the Tigers nervous.

    Dontrelle Willis starts today against the Royals. He needs to give Leyland six innings, all because Verlander and Scherzer lasted only five each the last two games.

    Quality starts, they're called: six innings minimum, with three or fewer earned runs. The Tigers have gotten two through seven games, and none from Verlander.

    Again, that will change. And it must, or a team that has had its share of good luck already through the first week will get fewer gifts from the baseball gods.

    No shortage of talent

    Fans are beginning to see why the Tigers left Florida with something of a mixed personality. They have plenty of arms. But good arms don't guarantee good performances.

    They have two of the most talented hitters in the game in Ordonez and Cabrera. But is there enough firepower elsewhere, even with Johnny Damon (not yet in his groove) helping at the top of the lineup, and Jackson, the whiz kid, winning everyone over?

    The latter group, by the way, includes Kaline, who twice Monday said this about Jackson:

    "He's going to be a superstar."

    Kaline is careful with compliments. Jackson got quite a tribute from No. 6.

    It's the rest of the team that makes you wonder. Kaline's assurances aside, serious questions remain about the Tigers. It's an interesting group for sure, but a winning team?

    We'll have to wait on that one.

    lynn.henning@detnews.com">lynn.henning@detnews.com

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