Ausmus armed with options in contract year

Ausmus armed with options in contract year

LAKELAND, Fla. -- The Tigers begin camp this week with a bevy of new faces on board. The manager's face, however, is quite familiar.

After a summer of frustrations, a front-office shift and an offseason of changes, Brad Ausmus reported to camp on Tuesday for his third Spring Training as Detroit manager. He did so with arguably the deepest, most versatile, flexible roster of his tenure.

Spring Training preview: Fifth starter | CF spot | Comebacks? | Newcomers 

With few decent options out of the bullpen late last year, a rotation that required a trade for Randy Wolf last August and very little impact offense off the bench, Ausmus had little room for creativity en route to a last-place finish in the American League Central. As he heads into a contract year, he's armed with options.

"I think it's important to have the best pitching we possibly can," Ausmus said in regards to battles. "I do think we have a lot more depth than we did a year ago, especially in the bullpen."

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His task of sorting out the depth begins here. While Daniel Norris carries the momentum of a strong finish into the fifth-starter competition, Ausmus said nobody has been locked into that spot. He listed Shane Greene, Matt Boyd, Buck Farmer and top prospect Michael Fulmer as other candidates.

Ausmus especially wants to take a look at Greene, who dealt with ulnar neuritis and a pseudoaneurysm in his right arm during his midseason struggles before being shut down in August.

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"Two years ago, before we [traded for] him, we were extremely excited about him," Ausmus said. "He got off to a great start, and then he scuffled and he had the injury. In my mind, I don't want Shane Greene to become a forgotten man. I just think he had an off year, and I think the stuff we saw a couple years ago, that's in him."

Likewise, Ausmus said, neither of the two open bullpen spots has a player locked in, though Drew VerHagen's performance down the stretch (2-0, 2.05 ERA) is an advantage.

"The way he pitched gives him an edge for sure," Ausmus said. "But it's still a situation where [Spring Training] performance is going to dictate."

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The Tigers are still open to converting Fulmer to a reliever, and Ausmus said he'd be more likely to make the Opening Day roster in the bullpen. If he doesn't make the team, Ausmus said, he'll most likely pitch at Triple-A Toledo in the rotation.

Worth noting -- The Tigers could open the season with four starters and eight relievers, thanks to a later Opening Day and an off day on April 7, but Ausmus is wary of the idea for now. One question Ausmus raised was how to keep the fifth starter fresh before the Minor League season begins.

Ausmus is not committing to a lefty-righty platoon in center field with Cameron Maybin and Anthony Gose: "I don't think it's going to be a strict platoon situation. I think at this point, it could go in any direction. It could be a platoon. It could be a partial platoon. It could be going with the hot hand. There's a number of factors, and those factors include the health of all three positions in the outfield."

Maybin talks Tigers return

While Rich Dubee embarks on his first season as pitching coach trying to learn the staff, he'll have help from his predecessor. Ausmus said Jeff Jones, who retired in October, is expected to return to camp this week and spend a week in camp helping in the transition.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.