Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland has said that no pitcher will be judged on one specific start this spring.
Instead, he'll evaluate the whole body of work.
That’s probably best for fifth-starter candidate Andy Oliver after he was lit up for seven runs -- six earned -- in Detroit’s 14-7 loss to the Houston Astros.
After a flawless six-pitch first inning, Oliver imploded in the second and third -- capped by Houston left-handed hitter Jason Castro’s two-run double.
It followed a two-out walk to a .194-hitting Matt Downs in the second and was coupled with back-to-back base hits that quickly erased Detroit’s early five-run lead.
Oliver (1-2, 5.17 ERA) threw 67 pitches, 40 for strikes -- including a four-pitch walk to No. 9 hitter Jose Altuve that led to his exit after three-plus innings. He was replaced by bullpen candidate Luis Marte, who allowed his two inherited runners to score.
It’s the second straight start that Oliver has struggled with command, which has plagued him the past two years. This time, though, Leyland said it wasn't a
"Sometimes he gets back to his old ways," Leyland said. "His pace isn’t exactly what I like it to be, but he was making an conscious effort to make it better and that’s all you can ask for."
Left-hander Drew Smyly is set to start Wednesday’s game against the St. Louis Cardinals in Jupiter, and Duane Below is scheduled to start Friday. Leyland said he's not willing to give Smyly the fifth-starter edge if the 22-year-old impresses in his last spring start.
"What if Oliver would have come down here and shut them out for five innings and three hits? Does that give him the edge?" Leyland said. "If Smyly goes out and pitches bad tomorrow that doesn't necessarily mean anything.
"You have to weigh it all and figure out who is the best guy for us."
After throwing 12 scoreless innings in his first four appearances this spring, Oliver has now allowed 10 runs -- nine earned -- in his only two starts.
"When I needed to make a pitch -- a slider or whatever -- it didn’t happen. It was something they could handle," Oliver said. "You’re not going to go out there and throw 50 perfect innings."
The Tigers jumped out to an early 5-0, highlighted by an Austin Jackson inside-the-park home run in a four-run second.
It was the result of a kind bounce off the centerfield fence at Osceola County Stadium and was Jackson’s first inside-the-park homer in his Major League career.
"There’s not a lot of guys who would have had an inside-the-park home run," Leyland said. "We’re good and we can hit the ball over the fence, but he makes us exciting."
Houston erased Detroit’s one-run lead in the third when a broken-bat single off Oliver drove in Brian Bogusevic, who led off with a double inside first base.
"I thought I got in, but it just went over the shortstop and fell in," said Oliver about the RBI bloop single. "It was in, but a hit is a hit. That's baseball."
Brennan Boesch hit is fifth home run this spring -- a solo home run off left-hander Wandy Rodriguez in the first. It was his second homer in as many days.
"It was a good pitch to hit -- a mistake that I capitalized on," Boesch said.
Oliver, making his next-to-last start, is tentatively scheduled to pitch the club’s split-squad game against the New York Mets on Sunday in Port St. Lucie.
Last week, he was one of three candidates to fill the Detroit Tigers’ final spot in the rotation. Two starts removed, his chance has considerably lessened.
“At some point, you have to come to a decision,” Leyland said. “Sometimes they make it easy for you and sometimes they don’t.”
Houston managed 14 runs on 13 hits, highlighted by Brian Bixler’s three-run homer off Detroit minor leaguer Michael Morrison in a five-run eighth inning.