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Notes: Bautista continues to impress

Notes: Bautista continues to impress

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Denny Bautista insists he isn't trying to think about the window of opportunity in the Tigers bullpen. He's just trying to pitch.

So far, his pitching could be putting himself in position for an opportunity. It's still barely a week into Spring Training games, but with two hitless innings against the Phillies on Wednesday, the young, hard-throwing but well-traveled right-hander bumped his total to five scoreless innings on two hits for the spring. And in a Tigers bullpen that has looked like a battle of attrition at times, his performances are beginning to stand out a little.

"I don't worry about if they need guys in the bullpen," Bautista said. "I just want to go out there and throw my pitch for a strike, and get in and out. I feel good right now, so I just want to pay attention to what I have to do to get better on the staff.

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"Everything is going well. Now, I have to keep going and do the same thing I did down in winter ball."

Bautista's previous two outings had come in the later innings of games, but he followed starter Justin Verlander on Wednesday to begin the fourth inning. Manager Jim Leyland wanted to see him work against more regulars, or at least more of the starting lineup that Philadelphia's split-squad presented.

The results were more of the same, with no ball leaving the infield in play. His knuckle-curveball was sharp, and his two-seamer caught Pat Burrell looking at a called third strike leading off the fifth. A two-out walk produced his only baserunner.

Most importantly, though, he spotted fastballs for strikes, continuing to solve the bugaboo that has followed him around his stops.

"He commanded the ball real well today," Leyland said. "He got to feeling good about himself and he got better. He's got to do that more often."

The improved location, Bautista said, comes after work with coaches on his delivery out of the stretch, raising his arm angle up. He worked exclusively out of the stretch Wednesday instead of using a windup.

"If I want to go inside, I go there," he said. "I won't miss. Right now, I feel very good about my fastball command."

To Leyland, the improvement is partly a matter of confidence.

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"You can tell by his posturing and body language," Leyland said. "The more he was throwing, the more confidence he got. He felt real good about himself today and got in a good groove."

Without naming candidates, Leyland said earlier this week that he has about five pitchers competing for as little as one spot, depending on Fernando Rodney's health. Matt Mantei's retirement and Francisco Cruceta's visa problems have left two talented arms out of the picture.

A trade could change the situation, and with a glut of position players, there were indications the Tigers have at least had discussions with other clubs on those matters. Still, between an upper-90s mph fastball and sharp secondary stuff, there are few arms with as much raw talent as Bautista's, when he's on.

"They make the decision," Bautista said. "I just want to do my job. I don't want to worry about anything. Work with my stuff and see what happens."

Inge in center: After making his first start in center field Wednesday, Brandon Inge told Tigers legend Al Kaline he was amazed how many different perspectives there were on a baseball field.

This perspective was relatively easy. Inge had just two fly balls in nine innings, but he practiced reading the ball off the bat and setting up according to the pitcher. All in all, it was a low-stress afternoon.

"It's really common sense out there," he said. "It's almost like a golf game. Just figure out the elements and play them."

If Inge somehow isn't traded this spring, backing up Curtis Granderson could be among his duties when the season opens. He started 19 games there as Alex Sanchez's backup in 2004, and had a chance to become a regular there had the Tigers been able to sign a third baseman such as Troy Glaus off the free-agent market that winter.

Wilson update: Progress reports on backup catcher Vance Wilson in his rehab from Tommy John surgery are becoming sporadic, but with less than four weeks to go before Opening Day, Leyland is guarded about Wilson's chances without necessarily being optimistic.

"More than likely, Vance will not be ready by Opening Day, from what I've seen," Leyland said.

Up next: Former National League East foes Dontrelle Willis and Tom Glavine will match up on Thursday afternoon when the Tigers host the Braves at Joker Marchant Stadium. Game time is 1:05 p.m. ET.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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