BRADENTON, Fla. -- While Tigers manager Brad Ausmus watches closer Joe Nathan work through his early bumps, Bruce Rondon work back from Tommy John surgery and Joba Chamberlain catch up from a late re-signing, he still has the left-handed side of his bullpen to worry about. As Wednesday's 8-7 loss to the Pirates showed, that's not all that clear either.
For all the ups and downs from Tigers relievers this spring, Ausmus indicated his bullpen picture remains the same, with one spot or two tops up for grabs. At least one of those is still expected to go to a second lefty reliever, complementing Gorzelanny.
"You assume one of them has to be able to pitch multiple innings," Ausmus said of his lefties, "and you hope one of them is good against left-handed hitters. That would be the two priorities."
Gorzelanny could do either, though his lefty-righty splits have been mixed the last couple of years. As a former starter, he could go two or three innings, Ausmus said, depending on how much they can stretch him out this spring. So could Kyle Ryan, a starter for much of the season and a spot starter in Detroit before converting to relief work in September. Ian Krol, by contrast, is more of a short reliever.
Both Gorzelanny and Ryan pitched Wednesday night against the Pirates, and both gave up home runs -- both to right-handed hitters. Krol, meanwhile, was scheduled to pitch but was scratched due to what Ausmus said was tightness in his left forearm, much like a knot.
Krol's injury isn't believed to be serious, but it could shelve him from a games at a time when he has to try to earn a bullpen spot. Even if he feels fine Thursday, Ausmus indicated they'd probably have him throw a side session before returning him to game work.
Gorzelanny retired both left-handed hitters he faced in the sixth, including a strikeout of Tony Sanchez. However, that came after the former Pirate walked switch-hitting ex-teammate Neil Walker and gave up a no-doubt drive from Starling Marte that left the ballpark in left-center field.
The damage to right-handed hitters highlights what Ausmus has to judge in gauging his lefty relievers. Sometimes, the matchups aren't ideal for what he's seeking.
"It's tough," Ausmus said. "You're looking for more action on the ball, the way the hitter through his swing responds to the pitch, whether he's fooled by the pitch or the pitch got on him quickly. It's the hitter's reaction that can tell you more about the pitcher's stuff than anything else."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.