Injuries throwing a wrench in Tigers' plans

Injuries throwing a wrench in Tigers' plans

LAKELAND, Fla. -- The question was innocuous enough in the next-to-last week of Spring Training: With 10 days to go, how many roster spots are up for grabs?

The pause from Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said about as much as the answer that followed.

"It depends on health issues," Ausmus said.

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When the follow-up question asked how many are up for grabs if everyone is healthy, Ausmus interrupted mid-sentence.

"But everybody's not healthy," Ausmus said on Wednesday. "If everybody was healthy, there'd be a couple spots. But everybody's not healthy. To say if everybody's healthy, that's not reality. It's kind of an evolving situation."

It's not being evasive, but acknowledging uncertainty. The Tigers usually set this off-day with 10 days to go in Spring Training to meet and evaluate their roster heading into the home stretch of camp. Their list of injuries prevents a good number of evaluations from being finalized. Instead of making decisions, Detroit has to spend these closing days making, in some cases, contingency plans.

For those who believe the Tigers' window is closing, it's fuel for the argument that this team is too vulnerable to injuries, but none of the injuries so far are long term. It's actually the short-term nature of the injuries that has created the uncertainty, making this more a test of Detroit's depth.

As one evaluator who watched the Tigers this week described it, "A lot of moving parts."

With a nagging back injury limiting Daniel Norris to 25 pitches Tuesday after being scratched Saturday, Detroit's fifth-starter spot looks more like a duel between the resurgent Shane Greene and the quietly effective Matt Boyd. Even if Norris can make his next scheduled start, he'll only have two starts to build up from around 50 pitches to 90 while also pitching effectively. He could get an extended spring start if the Tigers pitch Justin Verlander twice during Opening Week and wait on a fifth starter until April 12.

Norris leaves game with injury

If Greene makes the rotation -- and he currently seems to have the strongest case between spring performance and past experience -- he'll be out of the running for Detroit's bullpen, which officially has two open spots but could have three with Alex Wilson not pitching in games yet because of a lat issue.

Drew VerHagen, Bruce Rondon, Kyle Ryan and Buck Farmer have all impressed in the competition for the remaining spots, while Bobby Parnell has shown glimpses of his old form amidst a rough spring.

On the position side, Cameron Maybin's broken left wrist turned Anthony Gose into an everyday player, shifting priority on the fourth outfield spot toward versatility. The choice could depend on how much more time Maybin is likely to miss. A minimal disabled-list stint could convince the Tigers to carry Wynton Bernard without fear of hampering his development. A longer absence would probably favor Tyler Collins, who could make spot starts in all three outfield slots.

Maybin injured by HBP

Last but not least, there's Victor Martinez, whose left hamstring strain is still described as mild but has a major impact on Detroit's lineup. With Martinez's absence now at a week and a half and no game action close until he can run bases, Ausmus has said a DL stint is possible, though not yet probable.

If Martinez is ready, he'll likely be a pinch-hitter on Opening Day in Miami with no designated-hitter slot. If he's not, any replacement would likely fill a similar role. It could open an opportunity for the Tigers to carry one of their non-roster invitees such as Casey McGehee or Nate Schierholtz.

Holaday's two-run shot

Even the backup catcher could be affected by the injuries. A short-term DL stint for Martinez could also be a way for Detroit to carry both Bryan Holaday, who homered again Tuesday in a Minor League game, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

If Saltalamacchia wins the backup job, the Tigers could take their chances that Holaday might clear waivers after Opening Day rosters are set, though industry sources suggest he'll get claimed. Holaday continues to draw scouts from teams anticipating a trade.

The Tigers face decisions on Schierholtz and McGehee early next week. Both must either be on the Major League roster five days before Opening Day or be offered a $100,000 retention bonus to stick around.

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.