Tigers' roster, Opening Day lineup closer to being set

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Nick Castellanos

Tampa, Fla. — As you would expect, manager Brad Ausmus wouldn’t confirm it. But he didn’t deny it, either.

The lineup that is posted for Wednesday, the Tigers final game at Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium this spring, looks suspiciously like the lineup that might face White Sox left-hander Jose Quintana in the season opener April 3.

“You know when I do those lineups I do them for like three days in a row,” Ausmus said. “It’s the last home game, so all the main guys are in there.”

Wednesday’s lineup includes the usual suspects — Ian Kinsler leading off, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Justin Upton hitting three-four-five and James McCann (seventh) and Jose Iglesias (ninth) at the bottom of the order.

It also has Mikie Mahtook hitting sixth and playing right field, with rookie JaCoby Jones hitting eighth and playing center field.

And it has Nick Castellanos hitting in the two-hole, something he has coveted and set out to earn this spring.

“Yeah, I want it,” Castellanos said. “You get more at-bats and I think it would be fun hitting in front of Miggy.”

There’s more to his desire than that. He is hungry for more responsibility within this veteran-laden lineup.

“It’s just growing up, really,” he said. “Feeling comfortable in the locker room. It’s getting back to where I am playing baseball instead of working baseball.”

Castellanos, hitting .377 this spring with a .431 on-base percentage and a gaudy .755 slugging percentage, made a very compelling case for himself. On top of that, he tapered his body and is running better.

The injury to J.D. Martinez gave Ausmus some pause, though. Martinez's absence puts a void in the middle of the order and he could decide to use Castellanos in the sixth-hole instead.

“Nick certainly hasn’t done anything to hurt his chances (of hitting second),” Ausmus said. “But it’s one thing to do it for six weeks in spring training, you have to do it for six months in the regular season.”

Message received, Castellanos said.

“It’s a constant process,” he said. “It’s not like you wake up and go, ‘I made it. I am who I want to be as a player.’ You are always trying to grow, as a player and a person.”

About the outfield

Again, nothing is set in stone, but Martinez’s injury seems to have created a spot on the roster for Jones.

Ausmus said the club was using the three-to-four-week timetable for Martinez, though allowing that it could be longer before he’s game-ready.

“That affects personnel decisions, for sure,” he said.

If Martinez was healthy, Jones would likely start the year at Triple-A Toledo where he could play every day. Mahtook and Tyler Collins would have platooned in center field. But with Martinez out, Jones can start in center — by spring performance, he won that right — and get regular at-bats.

Collins and Mahtook will likely platoon in right field, with Andrew Romine or Collins getting some starts in center against the tougher right-handed pitchers.

Bullpen battle

Ausmus gave his most blatant hint yet about how the final bullpen spots will be sorted out. He said Tuesday that he expects to carry two left-handed pitchers – Justin Wilson is one for sure, and, though he didn’t name him, Kyle Ryan would likely be the other.

That would leave Blaine Hardy and Daniel Stumpf out of the mix.

He was asked if the club would keep two left-handers plus Wilson, since he is a late-inning set-up reliever, not a situational lefty.

“I’m not leaning that way,” Ausmus said. “I’m leaning the other way.”

Carrying two left-handers also means there will be a spot for a starting pitcher to work in long relief. The Tigers haven’t confirmed, but it appears Matthew Boyd will win the No. 5 spot in the rotation.

According to a MLB.com report Tuesday, Anibal Sanchez has been told he will pitch out of the bullpen. Tigers general manager Al Avila, via text message to The Detroit News said he could not confirm that.

That means that right-hander Mike Pelfrey (who is owed $8 million) will either be released or traded.

Around the horn

Ausmus still won’t make public his starters for the second and third games in Chicago. Justin Verlander has the opener, then presumably it will be Jordan Zimmermann and Daniel Norris to finish the series. He won’t make it official until he’s told the pitchers the news first.

Twitter @cmccosky