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Bautista continues spring dominance

Bautista continues spring dominance

SARASOTA, Fla. -- The longer Denny Bautista's ERA stays at zero, the more his confidence rises.

While Reds starter Johnny Cueto was the pitching story of Monday's 5-3 Tigers loss for the stuff he displayed against Detroit's lineup, Bautista quietly continued to display the effectiveness that appears to have earned him a spot in Detroit's bullpen. With his scoreless sixth, he's now up to 10 1/3 innings without a run allowed.

It's not just Tigers officials he's convincing that he can pitch big league relief. He's believing in himself.

"Right now, I feel like I can't miss the strike zone," Bautista said. "I can go right after [hitters] and throw strikes all the time."

It's at the point where manager Jim Leyland unintentionally created a tough situation for him and saw how he could get out of it.

Following starter Kenny Rogers' five innings, Bautista started the sixth by retiring Brandon Phillips and Adam Dunn on pop flies. He was nearly out of the inning, but Edwin Encarnacion's ground ball hopped off shortstop Edgar Renteria's glove for a two-out error. That brought up Scott Hatteberg.

With Encarnacion on first, Leyland called a pitchout on a 1-1 count, putting Hatteberg in a hitting count when Encarnacion didn't take off for second.

"Not that I didn't think he was going, because I did," Leyland said, "but normally I wouldn't put a guy in a hole. But I didn't mind doing it with him, just to see how he'd react."

Bautista ended up in a 3-1 count before Hatteberg hit a fly ball that fell into left field for a single, putting two on for catcher Paul Bako. Bautista regrouped to strike out Bako, not on one of his trademark power fastballs or sliders, but on a fastball with just enough off of it to throw off Bako's timing.

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It was his 10th strikeout this spring. By comparison, he has walked just three and allowed five hits.

"Right now, this is my best spring that I've had," said Bautista, now in his ninth professional season. "I'm in the strike zone right now, so I just have to continue throwing my pitches."

If he can do that and keep getting good results, he's expected to get a chance to throw those pitches in Detroit when the season opens. Though Leyland said he has made decisions regarding at least one of the two available bullpen spots, he has not announced who will fill them, partly to protect the process in case the Tigers make a trade before breaking camp.

Still, with spots open, Bautista has pitched the best out of the presumed candidates, and he has left an impression. Leyland admits he didn't know who Bautista was when Detroit traded for him last December, thinking it was a different player of a similar name.

But then, few might recognize Bautista by the way he has pitched this spring compared with years past, when his stuff didn't translate into results because he couldn't control his fastball.

"So far, he's done a pretty decent job," Leyland said. "Obviously, we're taking a look at him, and he's done OK. He's had a pretty good spring."

It's a diplomatic outlook, but Bautista isn't counting himself on the team yet, either.

"I just put everything in God's hands," he said. "They make the decision. I just have to continue to do my job. Just pitch like I am right now and keep throwing my pitch for a strike, and that's it."

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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