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Pelfrey, Norris, Sanchez in audition mode for rotation

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Anibal Sanchez

Detroit – Tigers manager Brad Ausmus Wednesday offered a little more clarity as to his plans for sorting out the starting rotation.

There are two factors at work here: One is finding a way to limit rookie Michael Fulmer’s innings in the short-term to hopefully avoid having to shut him down at the end of the season.

The other factor is determining who the No. 4 and No. 5 starters are going to be going forward.

In that regard, Daniel Norris, who will be recalled from Toledo and start Thursday; Anibal Sanchez, who starts Saturday; and Mike Pelfrey, who starts Tuesday; are auditioning.

“We’re going to see how guys pitch and we’ll make a decision,” Ausmus said. “Despite his so-so outing the other day, Pelfrey’s probably pitched the best over the past seven starts. We’re just going to see how it goes. I hope they all pitch well and it’s an extremely difficult decision.”

Ausmus didn’t want characterize it as an audition.

“I just want guys to pitch their own game and pitch well and make it a tough decision,” he said. “And we will obviously take into account who they’d pitch against next. We just have to win games and we think this gives us the best chance and we’ll go from there.”

In the meantime, Ausmus said Pelfrey would be available to pitch out of the bullpen in the next couple of days.

“Just for an inning, kind of as an emergency,” he said. “It’s more in case we need him. We wouldn’t use him haphazardly. But if we needed him, he’d be available.”

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Teams over the years have experimented with using a six-man rotation. The White Sox tried it a couple years ago, and it didn’t go too well.

“It has been done before,” Ausmus said. “The problem is, you end up being real short in the bullpen. It’s been done, but only for stretches.”

Ausmus didn’t completely rule it out.

“We haven’t considered that,” he said. “If they all pitch great, I guess we could. We haven’t talked about it at this point.”

As for Fulmer, Ausmus said he, pitching coach Rich Dubee and general manager Al Avila have mapped out a tentative work plan through the end of July. But, the plan is hardly set in stone.

“You have to take the long view,” he said. “If we can get him a few less innings now, we could hopefully still have him available for the last month of the season. That’s probably the smarter way to go.”

Fulmer pitched 124⅔ innings last season. The general rule teams have been using is to cap the increase in innings on young pitchers to no more than 30 percent the next season.

“No one really knows what the ideal amount is,” Ausmus said. "People like to say 25 to 30 percent more the following year in terms of innings. But people are still getting hurt all the time. I don’t know if there is any right answer. We just have to be cautious with him.

“We don’t want to be caught where we have to shut him down.”

With adding Sanchez to the rotation, the Tigers can skip Fulmer’s next scheduled start. Ausmus said that’s the tentative plan. He did not reveal any more of the plan beyond that.

“This is a fuzzy science,” he said. “People have been trying to control innings to mitigate injuries. But guys are still getting injured. I don’t think there’s a hard-fast rule. I am sure we will play it a little bit by ear. A little bit, too, is what we think Fulmer’s body can take. He’s a stronger guy. It’s not like he’s 6-4 and 180 pounds.

“We are going to be careful with him now and hopefully he’s good through the entire season.”

Interesting thought: What happens if Fulmer is selected to pitch in the All-Star Game? Would that trip up the Tigers’ plans?

“That wouldn’t mess with our plans at all,” Ausmus said. “If we are able to find a way at the All-Star break to give him extended time and he makes the All-Star team, then him pitching an inning would be perfect. It would get him back on the mound.”

Twitter @cmccosky