Porcello part of seven-man bullpen on ALDS roster
Extra bench spot goes to utility man Kelly; Boesch left off
DETROIT -- Rick Porcello and Al Alburquerque will be part of the Tigers' bullpen for the American League Division Series. Brayan Villarreal will not.
Likewise, Don Kelly will be on the Tigers bench, while Brennan Boesch will be watching.
Those were the two big decisions the Tigers made for their American League Division Series roster, announced Saturday morning before they opened the series Saturday evening against the A's. They all reflected a similar theme.
"We went for versatility," manager Jim Leyland said.
Leyland announced in the final days of the regular season that his postseason roster would consist of 11 pitchers and 14 position players, but wouldn't discuss specific names aside from saying that rookie outfielder Avisail Garcia would be in right field against a left-handed starting pitcher.
Detroit's lineup for Game 1 of the series Saturday night showed he's sticking with what he did down the stretch, a lineup that did not include Boesch. The Tigers' late-season ascension to their second straight AL Central title coincided with Quintin Berry's return to the starting lineup. He has been Detroit's starting left fielder against righties, with Andy Dirks moving to right.
"I don't think it was a tough decision," Leyland said. "I think it was a sentimental decision. From that standpoint, it was tough, because Boesch has been here. But if you look at the way we've been playing lately, -- and we have been pretty successful -- he's not been playing. Berry's been playing and Garcia has been playing when they pitch a lefty.
"From that standpoint, it really wasn't a tough decision, really a common sense decision. But it was a tough decision because Boesch has been here all year. He's a big part of our team."
Leyland left the possibility open that Boesch could be on the roster later in the postseason if they advance.
Boesch's absence will leave the Tigers without a power bat on the bench aside from Garcia, but Boesch's last pinch-hit appearance came on Aug. 18. The Tigers had plenty of close games since, and didn't use Boesch as a late-inning bat.
Berry's presence was a nod to manufacturing offense in late-game situations if and when Berry comes to bat with runners on base. So, too, were the choices to go with Kelly and infielder Danny Worth.
Kelly was outrighted to Triple-A Toledo in August when the Tigers acquired Jeff Baker, but had his contract purchased from Toledo on Sept. 1. The Tigers were able to add him to the postseason roster with Victor Martinez and Ryan Raburn on the disabled list.
"Kelly gives us protection at third and first, outfield, catcher in an emergency," Leyland said.
Worth was sent back and forth between Detroit and Toledo five times during the season before he was added as a September call-up. He and Ramon Santiago give the Tigers two infielders on their five-man bench, three if you count Kelly at the corners.
"There's going to be situations, possibly, where we've got to run for Jhonny Peralta, and we can use Worth to run," Leyland said.
On the bullpen side, Porcello's fate was in question after late-season struggles and Anibal Sanchez's late resurgence made it clear Porcello wouldn't crack the four-man postseason rotation. In the end, much like Brad Penny last year, Leyland opted to keep him as a long man in case a rain delay or a rough start left Detroit needing somebody to eat innings.
"Porcello fills a nice role in the bullpen for us," Leyland said. "And one thing you always sweat out if you're a manager, and sometimes it can happen, if you happen to get into an extra-inning game in the playoffs and you use your big guys out of the bullpen and all of a sudden you go two or three innings more like we did in Minnesota [during the AL Central tiebreaker in 2009], then a guy like Porcello fits in there really good because he can pitch several innings."
Porcello's spot seemed strongly hinted at when Leyland did not stretch out rookie left-hander Drew Smyly's innings in the final week. Smyly, who was a surprisingly effective member of Detroit's rotation in the first half, becomes the second left-hander in the bullpen over Darin Downs, whose comeback from a fractured skull three years ago made him a heart-warming story.
Statistically, Villarreal had a decent season, allowing just 38 hits over 54 2/3 with 28 walks and 66 strikeouts. Much of his strength, however, came in the season's first half. He walked nine batters over 9 1/3 innings in September and struggled in some tight situations down the stretch.
By leaving him off, the Tigers are trusting in Alburquerque's ability to pitch back-to-back days after missing most of the season rehabbing from offseason elbow surgery. His effectiveness is unquestioned, with just six hits allowed over 13 1/3 innings with eight walks and 18 strikeouts. His use, however, has been closely watched. Though he pitched on consecutive days at Triple-A Toledo before rejoining Detroit, he has not done so since.
With only one off-day for the entire series, it isn't difficult to foresee situations where the Tigers could use his strikeout-slider combination on back-to-back days.
"We would hope so," Leyland said of Alburquerque's availability. "It's not the best situation, but we didn't want to use Villarreal on back-to-back days either. We didn't like to pitch him two innings."