DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The question posed to Tigers manager Jim Leyland on Saturday dealt with Darin Downs and whether left-handed relievers need contrasting styles to complement each other in a bullpen. His answer might have addressed more than that.
"In the past, there were five righties in the rotation, so your lefty long guy becomes a little more prevalent," Leyland said, "because if one righty has a bad game and they've got their lefties in there, you can bring a lefty in for a long man. That's a little different if you've got left-handers in the rotation, one or two."
If Rick Porcello wins a starting job, the Tigers will have the same all-righty rotation they used for the stretch run last season once Anibal Sanchez came over from the Marlins. That could create the need for a lefty long reliever, a role Drew Smyly filled at times last season and during the playoffs.
If Smyly cracks the rotation, he'll be Detroit's lone lefty starter, which could lessen the pressure for lefty long relief. That might leave Leyland more inclined to take an extra lefty specialist. So, too, could a closer-by-committee scenario that relies on matchups to determine the best option for the ninth inning, including lefty Phil Coke.
Downs is trying to make himself as versatile as he can. With six appearances, tied for the Major League lead this spring with teammate Al Alburquerque among others, he's getting a good look.
Downs had a mix of short and long appearances down the stretch last season. Six of his 18 appearances required two outs or fewer, while five of his outings lasted four outs or longer. He had more matchups with right-handed hitters (48 plate appearances) than lefties (38), but fared better against left-handed batters (6-for-35, three walks, 10 strikeouts) than righties (12-for-41, four doubles, one home run, six walks, 10 strikeouts). His numbers from Triple-A Toledo were very similar.
He's working on an offspeed pitch to right-handed hitters to try to balance things out, adding that to a fastball with movement in the upper 80s and a breaking ball.
"Over my career, I'm tougher on lefties, but I'm just trying to really bear down against righties, as well," Downs said.
That could be the difference between being a one- or two-batter reliever for lefties only, and a one- or two-inning reliever with some stability.
Downs is a versatile reliever, according to Leyland, and he's quietly off to a strong start this spring. His scoreless inning on Saturday against the Blue Jays pushed his Grapefruit League total to seven innings of four-hit ball with a walk and seven strikeouts -- including a nice curveball for a strikeout of the Jays' Jim Negrych to strand a runner and end the eighth inning.
"I'm very pleased with what I've seen from him," Leyland said on Saturday morning. "I like him a lot. He's done a good job. You know, I was almost dumbfounded when I saw that he only pitched 20 innings for us [last year]. It seemed like he pitched more than that. …
"I thought he did a very good job and he's had a very good spring. ... He's in the mix."
Berry could return to lineup on Sunday
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The logjam of injured players in Tigers camp might finally be about to clear. After Brennan Boesch, Don Kelly and Ramon Santiago all returned from injuries in the past week, Quintin Berry might be cleared to play on Sunday.
Berry hasn't played since Feb. 24, the third game of the Tigers' spring slate, while dealing with patellar tendinitis in his left knee. Berry appeared close to a return earlier this week, but it didn't happen. Depending on how he feels Sunday morning after a heavy workout Saturday, he could be ready to go.
"I think it's a possibility, but don't hold me to that," manager Jim Leyland said on Saturday morning. "The report from the trainers today was he was really going to get after it today, and he thought that he probably would be available for us tomorrow. … I don't know, I think it's a possibility."
Worth making a case for roster spot
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Danny Worth made the Tigers' Opening Day roster last year, but it was a short stay until the team needed a fifth starter. It was also one of six different stints he spent in the big leagues over the course of the season.
He'd like to find a better fit. The more he hits like he has this spring, the better chance he gives himself to make the club. His double off Jays reliever David Bush on Saturday was his fifth of the spring, tops in the Grapefruit League, and it reinforced the theme that his simpler approach at the plate is paying off.
It has the manager's attention.
"Without question, he's definitely in the mix, depending on how you carry your team," skipper Jim Leyland said. "That versatility sure helps him."
Part of that quote suggests that the final roster might not have to be limited to one utility infielder.
With the Tigers committed to a 12-man pitching staff, they'll have a four-man bench, with one spot going to backup catcher Brayan Pena. Another is expected to go to Ramon Santiago, who's under contract for $2.1 million this year as a utility infielder. Add in one spot for a fourth outfielder, potentially a right-handed hitter to mix into left field with Andy Dirks, and the Tigers still have one spot to play with, depending on their needs.
It could be an outfielder, especially if Brennan Boesch isn't traded. It could also be an infielder, if Detroit wants another late-inning option on defense. The more Worth can offer offensively with hitting or baserunning, the better his case.
Kobernus gets start in left field
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Saturday exemplified the role Jeff Kobernus is going to fill if he makes the Tigers' roster. He started in left field and batted against a left-handed starter.
His day in left field left him with very little work to show for it. His plate appearances against Jays lefty Ricky Romero made a bigger impression.
"I thought he gave about two or three really outstanding at-bats today, starting with the first one of the game," manager Jim Leyland said.
Kobernus worked out of two-strike counts to draw two walks off Romero. The first was an 0-2 hole, and included a foul ball on a 2-2 pitch. An inning later, Kobernus was down in a 1-2 count before Romero tried to get him to chase pitches out of the zone. Kobernus shrugged them off and walked again.
It's not a complicated two-strike approach, but it's a relaxed one for someone who hadn't seen a lot of big league pitching until this spring. As a speedster with a track record of stolen bases, simply getting on base means a decent chance to get into scoring position.
"For the most part, before I'm in two strikes, I'm looking for a good pitch to hit," Kobernus said. "When I get into two strikes, I'm just looking to put something in play to give myself a chance, just trying to put the barrel on the ball and see the ball and protect the zone a little bit."
Defensively, Kobernus watched Jose Bautista's home run soar out, and he ran down a seventh-inning double off the left-field fence. He made one putout, reinforcing manager Jim Leyland's point that a start in left field doesn't always translate to a test.
Fister slowly rounding into form
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Like Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, Doug Fister held off on his throwing program until later in the offseason so that he could rest his arm. Like Verlander and Scherzer, he's hoping to use the longer Spring Training schedule to increase his workload gradually leading up to Opening Day.
It's a process, and not always a smooth one. While he used a sharp breaking ball to rack up five strikeouts in three-plus innings on Saturday against the Jays, he didn't have the consistency he wanted -- resulting in four runs.
"I felt good. That's the first time all spring I felt like I had much behind [my pitches] or the ability to control where [the ball was] going," Fister said. "But I didn't execute today. Physically, I felt good. But, obviously, I didn't get the results I wanted to. It's a good-and-bad day."
The breaking ball was a point of emphasis for him going into the start.
"So far, it's been hit and miss," Fister said. "Today felt a lot better with it, trying to throw it a lot more."
Fister gave up a first-inning home run to Jose Bautista, but settled down from there until he gave up a double and two walks in the fourth inning.
• The Tigers confirmed reports that they denied permission for the Venezuelan team to use Anibal Sanchez for a second outing in the current round of the World Baseball Classic. Sanchez threw just 20 pitches in his start on Thursday against the Dominican Republic, thanks to a rain delay -- and by rule could've been available. Venezuelan manager Luis Sojo explored the possibility of using Sanchez on Sunday, if necessary.
• Al Alburquerque's scoreless seventh inning on Saturday gives him five scoreless innings with nine strikeouts in his last five outings since he gave up a home run in his Grapefruit League debut on Feb. 24.
• Backup catcher Brayan Pena started at first base on Saturday, but Leyland said he was doing it to get him some at-bats while getting Alex Avila innings behind the plate. "He's got to start swinging the bat a little bit," Leyland said. Pena went 2-for-4 with a double.