After the club's 4-2 win at Comerica Park on Tuesday, manager Brad Ausmus revealed a pair of interesting moves regarding the club's rotation.
Less surprising was the decision to name Daniel Norris Thursday's starter, as the young left-hander has pitched well down in the minors and seemed to be a front-runner to fill the void left by Matt Boyd's recent departure to Triple-A Toledo.
But Ausmus also confirmed a report that Anibal Sanchez, who was demoted to the bullpen earlier this month, would return to the rotation Saturday. Whether it is simply a spot start or an extended stay remains unclear.
With Norris and Sanchez penciled in for Thursday and Saturday, respectively, that led reporters to wonder if Mike Pelfrey, who struggled in his outing on Monday night, might be skipped. Turns out, that will not be the case.
No starters are nursing any lingering injuries, Ausmus confirmed.
So, what does this mean?
The Tigers are likely considering skipping rookie Michael Fulmer's next start to err on the side of caution with his workload. The 23-year-old -- who is still slated to take the mound Wednesday -- has been sensational in his first stretch of 10 starts, but the Tigers have expressed concern about overtaxing such a promising young arm.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Fulmer is currently on pace to make 26 starts. Based on his current pace, he is on track to pitch 154 innings at the MLB level; that would be in addition to the 15.1 innings pitched already in Triple-A Toledo this season, which combines for 169.1 innings. That should give the Tigers reason for pause, considering Fulmer pitched only 124.2 innings last season. The Tigers have not set any hard innings limit, but they would be leery of anything beyond an increase of 20-25 percent from last season, which would see Fulmer ideally max out between 150 and 155 innings.
"You're getting warmer," Ausmus said when asked about this scenario.
If you're keeping track at home, this means Fulmer on Wednesday, as originally planned, with Norris pitching the series finale against Seattle. The Tigers will then have Jordan Zimmermann, Sanchez and Verlander pitch this weekend's series vs. Cleveland, with Mike Pelfrey pushed back until Tuesday (the team is off on Monday). Fulmer's next turn in the rotation will be skipped and all other pitchers will resume work on an extra day of rest, though it remains unclear whether Norris or Sanchez will remain in starting roles once Fulmer returns.
While the state of the rotation remains in flux, the back end of the bullpen is congealing nicely following the recall of Bruce Rondon from Triple-A last week. The 25-year-old flamethrower, a former closer candidate, was impressive in his 2016 debut on Sunday and he was resolute again in the eighth inning Tuesday night, working through the heart of the Mariners' order with a mere 11 pitches.
"Really excited for him," said Verlander, who held the Mariners to two runs on six hits over seven innings pitched Tuesday night. "I know he's worked hard. I talked to him a lot this spring training, just about his mentality when he takes the mound."
Closer Francisco Rodriguez has also witnessed a change in Rondon, who was sent home at the end of last season for "work ethic issues."
"Very impressive," Rodriguez told ESPN.com after recording his 20th save of the season. "Even in the two, three months since spring training, he has gained a lot of experience."
Though Rondon has had success thus far, it remains a small sample size. And there is still trust that needs to be earned following last season's abrupt dismissal.
That said, his addition could significantly fortify the back end of the Tigers' bullpen.
With Shane Greene's contributions as a reliever, Justin Wilson serving as a reliable setup man, and Rodriguez as steady as ever, the club's bullpen woes seem to have taken a dramatic turn for the better.
"It's going to take a lot of pressure [off] other guys, and it's going to help us out," Rodriguez said. "At this point, we need to get as much help as we can, if we want to accomplish something special. We need every single guy, every role, from now on, to be important."