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Detroit โ€” He couldn't have been any more direct on the subject.

"I don't think anybody is going to beat out the five guys we have right now in our starting rotation," Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski said Saturday during TigerFest.

Those five guys, of course, are David Price, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, Alfredo Simon and Shane Greene. So what then becomes of young, talented starters like Kyle Lobstein, Buck Farmer, Drew VerHagen and Kyle Ryan?

"We will have to make a decision," Dombrowski said. "Are we better off trying to win with them in the bullpen, figuring they can give us a good inning or two, or let them go and be that protection for us (as starters) in Triple A?"

Farmer, VerHagen and Ryan made spot starts for the Tigers last season and Lobstein wound up replacing Sanchez in the rotation down the stretch.

"We're going to see how it goes," pitching coach Jeff Jones said. "There's no telling how it's going to work out. Everybody's always talking about defined roles but basically, in my mind, the guys define their own roles."

Fact is, there aren't many bullpen jobs open. Closer Joe Nathan, setup men Joakim Soria and Bruce Rondon, Al Alburquerque, who signed a one-year deal work $1.725 million Saturday, plus veteran left-hander Tom Gorzelanny will, barring injury or a horrific spring, make the opening day roster.

That leaves two spots, one lefty (Ian Krol and Blaine Hardy are the front-runners) and one righty (Alex Wilson, Josh Zeid, Jose Valdez and Chad Smith are in the running, as are non-roster invitees Alberto Cabrera and Rafael Dolis).

"We've added some quality arms to pick from," Jones said. "It's going to be a battle down there."

Of the four young starters โ€” lefties Lobstein and Ryan, righties Farmer and VerHagen โ€” Farmer seems to have the best shot at making the club as a reliever. He has the power arm that fits the role (average fastball at 93 mph last season) and he's been forewarned.

"We've talked about it a lot and it's been thrown out there that I may be in the bullpen," Farmer said. "My freshman year in college I pitched 50 innings out of the bullpen, so it's something I am not a stranger to. If that's the case, I will be ready."

Farmer has started 33 of 34 games he's pitched in the minor leagues. But in his two relief appearances with the Tigers last season he faced nine batters, struck out four and allowed one hit (a home run).

"It's whatever I can do to help the team at the big league level," he said. "Whether it's making spot starts or moving to the bullpen full time. Wherever I can help."

Jones said he believes Farmer's future is as starting pitcher, but he wouldn't be the first starting pitcher to begin his career out of the bullpen.

"For most guys, especially guys that are trying to break into the big leagues, they don't care how they get there," Jones said. "Old school, in the old days, you always broke a starter in from the bullpen."

The plan is for Farmer, Lobstein, Ryan and VerHagen to stretch out their arms like starting pitchers would at the beginning of spring training.

"Yeah, I will still go to spring with a starter's mentality, just in case I do end up going to Triple-A as a starter there," Farmer said.

"If they tell me to work out of the bullpen, it'll be an easy transition for me."

As Jones said, the competition will be fierce for what could be just two jobs.

"We're going to talk to them about it and give them a look," Jones said. "We will see how it goes. It might not work, you never know."

chris.mccosky@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/cmccosky

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