AndyOliver2Andy Oliver gave up his first three runs of the spring all at once on a three-run homer off the bat of Minnesota’s Luke Hughes on Wednesday afternoon. But it wasn’t the home runs, or the run total that badly wounded Oliver on this day, it was the re-emergence of his walk problem.

Five of the eighteen batters that stepped to the plate against Oliver were issued a free pass, nearly doubling his spring walk rate (from 3 BB/9 to 5.7 BB/9). Compounding his high-walk problem (both in this game and for the spring as a whole) has been a somewhat surprising lack of strikeouts. He’s totaled just seven in 12.2 innings of work thus far. If Oliver can’t completely shake off the walk demon (though he must control it), he’s going to at least need to ratchet up the strikeouts if he hopes to ever experience success in the big leagues.

CONTINUE READING THIS POST>>

I don’t really want to over analyze the numbers here, because spring training battles aren’t really all about the numbers. It’s about the organization seeing specific players and how they react to different situation. But it’s fairly obvious that the biggest key for Oliver was going to be about whether or not he was able to pitch inside the strike zone. The strides he was seemingly taking in that direction pretty much disappeared with this one outing, and even though he maintains a significant ERA advantage over Duane Below (2.13 to 5.19)*, I don’t think Oliver really holds an advantage over him anymore. Below threw one rather ‘neutral’ inning on Wednesday afternoon in relief (1 IP, 1 BB, 0 K, 0 H, 0 ER).

*The ERA difference is largely related to the BABIP difference for each player this spring. Oliver’s BABIP is .091 while Below’s is .364. The difference in FIP between the two players is only .003.

The big winner of the day appears to Drew Smyly, who’s the lone fifth starter candidate with impressive numbers. He’s scheduled to pitch in a minor league game on Thursday (with Rick Porcello) while the rest of the club has a day off from games.

Jacob Turner probably also ‘wins’ today. Reports are that he’s “feeling good” after a few tossing sessions, and he reports no pain with the tendinitis. Jim Leyland said before the game that Turner is still unlikely to return in time to win the job, but that was before Andy Oliver regressed to his old self. Perhaps the skipper will still be willing to give him as long of a look as possible.

Matt Snyder is the editor of The Tigers Den. He can be reached on Twitter @snyder_matthew.