March 5, 2013 at 1:06 pm

Lynn Henning

Rick Porcello could be an option as Tigers' closer

Lakeland, Fla. — We learned a couple of things Monday as the Tigers dealt with a closer crisis they might want to resolve before spring camp adjourns in 25 days.

Development No. 1: The Tigers could, in a wild scenario, decide a new and improved Rick Porcello is at least worth discussing as a ninth-inning choice now that rookie Bruce Rondon's candidacy has been wounded, perhaps fatally, by a string of ugly outings.

"We'll be very thorough in looking at our options," said Jim Leyland, the Tigers manager, who with his boss, Dave Dombrowski, has watched as Rondon's mishaps have jolted an otherwise peaceful camp.

Development No. 2: Jose Valverde and his agent, Scott Boras, are open to signing a one-year contract if the Tigers are interested.

"Jose Valverde would be thrilled to pitch for the Tigers on a one-year deal," Boras said during a Monday telephone conversation.

That's news when it has been generally assumed Boras-Valverde wanted a multiple-year package for a free-agent reliever who this month turns 35. The Tigers, though, appear not to be as concerned about money as with Valverde's skills following a so-so 2012 season and multiple playoff disasters that made his return to Detroit improbable, if not an absurdity.

Porcello was Monday's big story for assorted reasons.

He was being scouted heavily during the Tigers-Astros game at Marchant Stadium, an 8-5 Detroit victory during which Porcello threw four blue-ribbon innings.

Porcello is a hot ticket for teams hungry for an extra starter the Tigers believe they can afford to trade.

Porcello, though, could in theory end up as a pitcher the Tigers might at least consider if their closer chasm isn't bridged.

Porcello throws strikes. And while he doesn't throw the ball past hitters, Leyland said Monday that, "I don't think you have to be a strikeout pitcher," to be an effective closer. And he used the Tigers' old workhorse, Todd Jones, as an example.

It could get bumpy

This isn't to say the Tigers are making grand plans to finish games with Porcello. They absolutely are not. But neither are they dismissing his name as they try to patch a huge hole that must be filled ahead of Opening Day.

Porcello will at least be discussed as the Tigers try to head off a potential bullpen debacle. Monday's realities suggested life could be tense, at least for a while.

Rondon is temporarily on the sidelines working on mechanics. If he straightens out and throws with last year's fire and control, he could re-emerge as the team's ninth-inning favorite. But be careful about that wager. Rondon is 22 years old and hasn't thrown a single pitch in a regular-season big league game.

The Tigers could go with last autumn's savior, Phil Coke, who did a marvelous job during the playoffs. But they are reluctant to make Coke a closer when he is beyond valuable as a left-hander they need in earlier matchup situations.

Coke also can pitch longer than a single inning. The Tigers would prefer to keep him in his old job when Leyland needs quality options that can keep a game under control ahead of the ninth.

Other possibilities remain but aren't at this point tempting to the Tigers.

Joaquin Benoit is soon to turn 36. The Tigers can use him sparingly but not regularly as a ninth-inning choice. Ditto for Octavio Dotel, 39. Al Alburquerque and Brayan Villarreal have durability issues that don't mesh well with a closer's workload.

Dombrowski is temporarily stuck. Rondon isn't formally out of the picture but has moved in that direction in only 10 days.

Valverde, meanwhile, clearly isn't attractive to the Tigers.

Move him or use him?

The remainder of Detroit's back-end committee has strengths better-suited to earlier innings. Which brings us back to Porcello.

He is a trade chip whose value appears to be rising by the day. Could the Tigers deal him for a closer? Or, can they squeeze a few months from Valverde as they buy time for Rondon?

A third option: Could the Tigers decide a guy with Porcello's stuff — better now that his old bugaboo pitch, the slider, is history — and low pulse is worth a shot?

Porcello was asked about this Monday. He might as well have been asked if he had considered playing wideout for the Lions.

"I don't even have a comment," Porcello said. "But if it gets to that point, I'll do whatever I can to help win games for the Tigers."

It's gotten to that point.

Closing options

With Bruce Rondon struggling, here are some of the options Tigers are considering:

Phil Coke, left-hander: Tigers believe he is more valuable as middle reliever.

Rick Porcello, right-hander: Has had great spring. Tigers might be tempted to try him as closer.

Jose Valverde, right-hander: A long shot. Unsigned free agent, but Tigers have serious doubts.

Brian Wilson, right-hander: A free agent who is still recovering from elbow surgery.

Tigers Committee: Octavio Dotel, Joaquin Benoit, Al Alburquerque, Brayan Villarreal, Coke, etc.

The closer’s role would be a big adjustment for career starter Rick Porcello, but he’s having a good spring. / Robin Buckson/Detroit News
Bruce Rondon, ostensibly the prospective Tigers closer entering spring ... (Robin Buckson/Detroit News)
More Lynn Henning