CLE@DET: Rondon retires Kipnis for first career save

VIERA, Fla. -- If Bruce Rondon had thrown this well in Spring Training last season, he might be a second-year closer right now. As it is, he's staking a claim to the setup job behind Joe Nathan, and not by simply lighting up radar guns across the Grapefruit League.

Rondon threw another scoreless inning on Sunday against the Nationals, this time allowing a single, but stranding a runner in the eighth. It gives him seven innings of one-run ball on six hits. He threw his seventh strikeout of the spring, while extending his streak without a walk.

The strikeout came on a sharp, breaking slider to Eury Perez, giving him his latest example of a new focus on his secondary pitches.

"It's imperative, I think, for Rondon, that he has to throw his slider to make his fastball even more effective," manager Brad Ausmus said. "Like we talked about earlier, you can't blow your fastball by big league hitters if that's all you've got. I don't care if it's 100 mph."

Rondon threw sliders with 22 percent of his pitches in Detroit last season, along with 10 percent changeups. That devastating fastball comprised two-thirds of his pitch total, helping him easily lead the league in pitches over 100 mph, according to the Bill James Handbook, despite barely a half-season in the Tigers bullpen.

Opening statement? Verlander makes his case

DET@WSH: Verlander dominates Nats, fans three

VIERA, Fla. -- Justin Verlander took a no-hitter into his fifth and final inning Sunday against the Nationals before pitching coach Jeff Jones jinxed it with two outs.

"Where I'm at today, if I take that into Opening Day, I like -- or whenever my start is -- I like my chances," Verlander said.

Verlander caught himself about the opener.

"Yeah, well," he said with a laugh.

He didn't take it any further than that.

"I'm not going to campaign," Verlander said. "That's Brad's [Ausmus, Tigers manager] decision. Hey, I'm one of five guys. Do I want to start Opening Day? Absolutely. I have for the last six years. Do I want to keep that going? Absolutely. I think if you ask any of our starters if they want to throw Opening Day, the answer's yes."

Ausmus hasn't announced his Opening Day starter, and he wasn't inclined to take Verlander's hint and do so Sunday. The current pitching schedule puts Verlander on track to be on regular rest for March 31, while Max Scherzer could start that day with an extra day's rest.

"I've talked to [Jones] about it some and some of the coaches, but none of the pitchers have pressed the issue at all," Ausmus said. "They're very professional about how they go about their business."

As for a timetable, Ausmus said, "It'll be sooner than later. I have an idea, but I'm certainly not going to tell you before I tell the people involved. Sooner than later, I'll tell you."

If Verlander does take Sunday's pitching form into his first start of the season, he should be fairly nasty. He also might be fairly efficient. He needed just 49 pitches to mow through five innings of work on a day when he was slated to throw 65, and he didn't give up a base hit until his next-to-last hitter.

"Jeff was even joking with me. He tried to jinx the no-hitter on purpose to try to get my pitch count up a little bit," Verlander said. "He said, 'If you keep the no-hitter going, I'll let you go back up.' He was totally lying, but he said it just to jinx it on purpose. I laughed."

Jones and Ausmus didn't want Verlander sitting down and getting back up for a sixth inning, so they told him ahead of time. Verlander struck out Jose Lobaton to end the fifth, then marched directly to the bullpen to throw the rest of his pitches.

"He threw too well," Ausmus said.

Worth's value increasing with Iglesias out

Iglesias' injury means Tigers have need at shortstop

VIERA, Fla. -- Danny Worth has long been the man with the odds against him in Spring Training. He spent the last two camps performing well enough to earn a roster spot in many estimations, but was blocked on the roster by Ramon Santiago.

Now Santiago is gone, but with Steve Lombardozzi on board, Worth doesn't have a utility job to win. But with Jose Iglesias now out, he could have a timeshare to earn at shortstop. He might still be squeezed out of an opportunity if the Tigers can't open a 40-man roster spot for him. For now, though, he's making another tough case.

Worth didn't start Sunday's game against the Nationals, but his eighth-inning RBI double in his only at-bat raised his average to an even .300 (9-for-30), to go with four doubles and seven RBIs. He added a steal of third base.

He has played well enough to catch the attention of general manager Dave Dombrowski, who has had to help make the tough call to send him down at the end of the previous two camps.

"Whenever he seems to get the opportunity, something's happened," Dombrowski said. "But he's healthy this spring, he's swinging the bat fine and we know he can catch the ball and play defense."

Worth did make a fielding error, his second this spring. But it was at first base, not at shortstop.

Verlander can feel Iglesias' pain

Outlook: Iglesias offers little offensive upside

VIERA, Fla. -- Justin Verlander expressed sympathy and support for injured shortstop Jose Iglesias. But he also expressed some relief that the problem was discovered.

"You definitely feel bad for him, but at the same time, going through what I went through this offseason [with surgery], sometimes it's nice to get a definitive answer and closure. I know he was grinding last year and didn't really know what was going on, why he couldn't get over his injury or what exactly was happening.

"Yeah, it's horrible news for him -- and us. But at the same time, sometimes it's a sigh of relief to say, 'Well, I know what the problem is. Now I can attack it.' That's the mentality that I had. That's the mentality that pretty much all athletes have."

From a pitcher's standpoint, Verlander said having a young, unproven shortstop behind them won't have a major impact on anything they do. They'll keep making their pitches and rolling with the results.

That said, Verlander will be paying more attention to the shortstop mix.

"I haven't seen them a whole lot. I'll probably be watching a little bit more now," Verlander said.

Quick hits

Ian Kinsler gave the Tigers yet another injury scare when he took a Jordan Zimmermann pitch off his left elbow in the first inning on Sunday. Kinsler was knocked down, but got up, walked to first base and stayed in the game.

• Sweet-swinging rookie third baseman Nick Castellanos saw his streak of four consecutive multi-hit games come to an end Sunday. He went 0-for-3 against the Nationals, though he had one well-struck drive to left-center that seemingly was slowed by a stiff wind blowing in from left.

• In what might be another sign of the new-school influence on the Tigers these days, Ausmus was asked whether he has received much fan mail since becoming manager. His answer: "Who uses mail?!?"