LAKELAND, Fla. -- The spotlight that has been shining on Bruce Rondon every outing for the last five weeks finally can come down. Now comes the judgment of whether he's ready to pitch in the big leagues, let alone close.
Wednesday's outing against the Phillies didn't make the decision process any simpler.
"From an organizational standpoint, we're evaluating a couple of these last decisions we have to make," manager Jim Leyland said. "We evaluated yesterday and we evaluated today, and we will discuss those evaluations in both instances."
Without saying as much, Leyland was acknowledging the difference in the two days, and the complication in putting together a judgment as a whole. A day after Rondon submitted what Leyland called his best pitching of the spring, the right-hander struggled to try to get through his inning of work Wednesday.
Neither of the back-to-back singles Rondon allowed leading off Wednesday's seventh inning were hit particularly hard, though Ben Revere's ground ball single was hit hard enough to elude Danny Worth's diving attempt at third base. With runners at the corners and nobody out, Rondon rebounded to fire fastballs past Troy Hanzawa for the first out, but Michael Young's grounder to short sent Jhonny Peralta just far enough to his left to leave him without a play at the plate.
It also moved the speedy Revere to third, and that's where Rondon's outing seemed to come apart. A walk to Laynce Nix put runners at the corners for Carlos Ruiz. A balk then cost Rondon another run.
Catcher Alex Avila took the blame for the balk, saying they had a mixup on signs. When Avila threw down another sign, Rondon stopped in his delivery, drawing the call and sending Revere home with another run.
"Alex said he messed it up. I don't worry about that," Leyland said.
Ruiz's ensuing walk drew Leyland out of the dugout as soon as Rondon snatched the toss from Avila. Rondon had hit his pitch count, and Leyland did not want to go much past that on Rondon's second straight day of pitching.
"He wasn't as sharp, obviously," Leyland acknowledged, "but he wasn't bad, bad."
That said, Leyland acknowledged it'll be part of the evaluation.
Leyland said earlier Wednesday that he's hoping to have a decision on his remaining roster spots, including the bullpen, on Thursday.
After twists and turns, Kelly makes Opening Day roster
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Manager Jim Leyland had put Don Kelly on the Tigers Opening Day roster without telling Kelly. Once he called in Quintin Berry on Wednesday morning to let Berry know he wouldn't be making the team, he didn't get around to telling Kelly he would. So in the middle of his pregame media session, he brought Kelly in.
"I got too busy," Leyland told him, "but I figured you could count."
Kelly laughed. He could count, of course, but he wasn't going to assume anything. In fact, he wasn't really sure he was getting good news until he saw the crowd of reporters in Leyland's office as he walked in.
"Skipper always keeps it light, doesn't he," Kelly said.
For someone who has made the big league club the last few years, it wouldn't seem like a big deal. For someone who left the organization and was out on the open market this winter -- and seriously considered signing elsewhere -- making this team was special for Kelly. That could all change if the Tigers make a move as other teams finalize their rosters and make cuts, but it appears unlikely.
Kelly had been taken off the roster just days after the World Series last fall. He didn't sign until near the end of the offseason, opting for a Minor League contract with a camp invite over a similar offer from a National League club.
When the roster battle went into this final week, Kelly chose not to exercise the opt-out clause in his contract, deciding to wait and see how the roster shook out. He was rewarded.
"Let's face it, it would've been easy to say, 'OK, it's a fresh start, go sign somewhere else,' and want to leave this in the past. But this is home," Kelly said. "This is where you want to be. Sometimes it's not easy to face the disappointments of the prior year whenever you have a chance to get out, but just to work hard, come back and be ready to play this year was big."
Kelly had a strong start and finish to his spring, capped by Tuesday's 4-for-4 performance, with a 1-for-15 slump in between. Realistically, however, Kelly's versatility was the deciding factor. He can't run like Berry, but he can play a lot more spots, including third base and first.
Along with Matt Tuiasosopo, Kelly brings Leyland's roster back to having super-utility players available from both the right and left sides of the plate.
"We made a decision on what we felt was best for our team at that particular moment," Leyland said. "Things change."
Tigers option outfielder Berry to Triple-A Toledo
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Up until Tuesday, Tigers manager Jim Leyland said, the roster cuts from Tigers camp were more disappointments for players. Come Wednesday, the moves would be ticking players off.
It was tougher than that for speedy outfielder Quintin Berry, who was optioned to Triple-A Toledo. Last year's midseason surprise, Berry had his contract purchased in late May as an injury replacement for Austin Jackson, and he stuck around the rest of the year, carving out a role long after Jackson returned.
"It's pretty simple: We broke a heart today," Leyland said.
It wasn't an easy decision for Leyland, either.
"I let him do most of the talking, and he was very professional. Rightfully so, very upset," Leyland said. "And I think he did such a good job for us from time to time last year, he just had a tough time understanding it, and I don't blame him.
"But I want to say this, I hope that he understands that he's a big part of this team. He's not on it right now, but he's a big part of this team and this organization."
Berry missed two stretches of spring games with patellar tendinitis in his left knee, but Leyland said the missed time didn't have an impact. He saw enough to make a judgment, and one based as much on Don Kelly's versatility as his performance. That said, Leyland made it clear the Tigers will miss Berry's speed factor.
"Obviously, by sending him out, we lost ourselves a basestealer," Leyland said. "But we felt like this was the best fit at this particular time."
Despite the knee injury, Berry ended up with more at-bats this spring than he had last spring. He hit quite similar, batting 10-for-31 (.323) with a triple, an RBI, six walks, seven strikeouts and a pair of stolen bases.
Dirks plays outfield in Minor League game
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Though Andy Dirks has played in only one Grapefruit League game over the past week, the Tigers don't appear overly concerned that the outfielder's right knee injury is serious. For now, though, they're keeping him limited to Minor League games.
Dirks served as the designated hitter in a Triple-A game on Tuesday, hitting a home run and a double, then played the outfield in another Minor League game Wednesday. On Wednesday, in particular, the assignment made sense, given that the Tigers were facing Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels.
The concern in recent days with Dirks has been limiting the swelling in his knee, which took some time to reduce to the point that he could play again after he banged the knee into the fence chasing a fly ball last week.
By rule, the Tigers could reserve the option to backdate a roster move to put Dirks on the disabled list as long as he doesn't play in another Major League game this week. If that were to happen, the Tigers could activate him as soon as April 9.
If Dirks is healthy, however, he'll be the Opening Day left fielder against Twins right-hander Vance Worley, who was named Minnesota's Opening Day starter on Wednesday by manager Ron Gardenhire.
• Drew Smyly made his Spring Training finale on Wednesday, pitching five innings for Triple-A Toledo against the Braves' affiliate. The left-hander, who is scheduled to open the season in long relief, pitched five innings and allowed two runs, one earned, on five hits. He walked two and struck out five.
• Former Tigers reliever Zach Miner said Wednesday he was 50-50 on whether to re-sign with the team this past offseason, despite the long odds he would have faced making the big league club out of camp. Miner said his final choice came down to Minor League offers with camp invites from the Tigers and Phillies.
Miner opted for the Phillies, where he remains one of the relievers fighting for a roster spot in camp. He gave up a run on two hits in two innings against the Tigers on Wednesday, walking one and striking out another.
• One American League official seconded a report from ESPN's Buster Olney that Tigers utility infielder Ramon Santiago is on the trade market. The fact that the Tigers did not send down fellow utility infielder Danny Worth after announcing Kelly had made the team, and that Leyland said his positional roster wasn't yet set, seemed to back up the observation that the utility-infield spot remains in play.
The Tigers supposedly had some interest in Santiago during the Winter Meetings last December, but Santiago's $2.1 million guaranteed salary seemed to be an impediment.
• Justin Verlander declined to talk any further about his contract situation Wednesday after his final start of the spring, saying he had nothing to add following a story from CBSSports.com a few days ago saying Verlander did not want negotiations going on during the season.
"I've got no comments on contract anything," Verlander said. "We're one start away from Opening Day and I'd prefer to talk about that."