LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The closer position is the huge question in camp for the Tigers, but their starters are creating more answers than they need.
With another mix of changeups, curveballs and heaters on Thursday against the Braves, Drew Smyly not only continued his scoreless spring, now at nine innings of three-hit ball, he stretched the streak of Tigers starters to 23 innings. They're pitching a shutout for March.
Technically, the last Tiger to start a game and give up a run was Shawn Hill, but he isn't a starting candidate. He started last Saturday's split-squad game against the Yankees while Smyly started against the Pirates. Take Hill's start out of the math, and the last run off a Tigers starter came when Atlanta's Juan Francisco homered off Rick Porcello on Feb. 27.
It's not quite like a regular-season stretch, when starting pitchers will try to pick up where the previous starter left off. Yet in Smyly's case, with a rotation spot in the balance, he admits there's motivation to match everyone else.
"When you see other starters go out there and just mow lineups down and have success, you want to almost one-up it. You want to do just as well," Smyly said. "It just gives you that fire to repeat it. It's fun when everybody's pitching well, because it's just making everybody compete against each other."
In Smyly's case, he was also matching himself, both in results and execution. For the second consecutive start, catcher Alex Avila pushed him to throw a steady diet of changeups and curveballs. Again, he had success with them, this time racking up four strikeouts in a five-batter stretch of the first and second innings.
All three of his second-inning outs were on called third strikes. He dropped a 2-2 curveball over the plate to Freddie Freeman leading off the inning, caught B.J. Upton looking at a 93-mph fastball, then -- after a Dan Uggla single -- went back to the curveball on a full count to freeze the aforementioned Francisco.
"I love it when [Avila] calls them," Smyly said of the changeup, estimating he threw about 10 on Thursday. "This is the time to practice on it. Every game, I feel like it's easier to throw and it gets better."
Manager Jim Leyland said the early-evening shadows made it tough on hitters when the game started, but Smyly carried it through.
"The thing I liked is, he saw their [Major League] lineup. That's a good lineup," Leyland said. "He was facing the big guys, and that's a good thing. He did very well."
Boesch returns to crowded outfield mix
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- As Tigers players piled into the buses heading for Disney's Wide World of Sports complex, Torii Hunter -- who was not on the trip -- was back in the clubhouse at Joker Marchant Stadium, trying on a Brennan Boesch outfield glove. Boesch had given it to him to try to work in, Hunter said.
Boesch hasn't had much playing time in the outfield thanks to his early spring oblique injury, but that's now changing. He was in the Tigers' lineup Thursday for the first time all spring, starting in left field.
Boesch went 1-for-2 with a ground ball through the middle in the fourth, eventually scoring the game's opening run when Prince Fielder singled through the infield shift. Boesch left after five innings for Nick Castellanos.
Boesch's return adds to an already crowded outfield mix that manager Jim Leyland is trying to judge. Leyland has had to use Jeff Kobernus at second base more than the outfield simply to get him regular at-bats, while acknowledging that Kobernus will have to play left field to make the team out of camp.
"He's only in the lineup [at second] right now for one reason -- to get him some at-bats to see how he looks hitting," Leyland said of Kobernus. "Because the better he hits, the better chance he has of looking pretty good in left field.
"I can't play Boesch and [Quintin] Berry and [Andy] Dirks and Kobernus and [Avisail] Garcia and everybody else in left field. I just don't have enough games for that. It's tough right now when you talk about the left field situation. … I'm not a miracle worker. I do the best I can to get them all at-bats."
Reliever talks might not pick up until late in camp
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- While the Tigers' closer situation heats up the rumor mill for a potential Spring Training trade if Detroit decides it doesn't have a sufficient answer for the ninth, the best example of the challenges of pulling off a trade in the middle of Spring Training might have been in the other clubhouse Thursday.
Though scouts had been speculating on Atlanta left-hander Jonny Venters as a potential trade option for teams needing a bullpen arm -- such as the Tigers -- the Braves were dealing with injuries to Eric O'Flaherty and Jordan Walden.
With O'Flaherty and Walden trying to build back to game action, Atlanta's bullpen depth would be in question. MLB.com's Mark Bowman reported Thursday that trade speculation on Venters appeared unfounded.
Bullpen depth is a question several teams might have to answer before deciding whether they can afford to swing a trade, which is one reason why the vast majority of Spring Training trades -- especially significant ones -- don't take place until the final days of camp.
Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski would not comment on trade reports Thursday. However, he said his scouts will be out tracking teams and filing reports as they would in any spring, and keeping a pulse on how other teams' rosters will likely form.
As an example, though an ESPN Chicago report suggested Detroit would be among teams taking a "hard look" at Cubs closer Carlos Marmol, other reports said the Tigers have not had talks with the Cubs at this point. The two teams have a history of recent trade rumors that have not come to fruition, from Aramis Ramirez in 2011 to Matt Garza a year ago to Alfonso Soriano last summer and again in the offseason. The one trade the Tigers and Cubs have pulled in the last few years was the Jeff Baker deal last August, and that came with very little fanfare.