Robbie Ray, the most notable prospect that landed in Detroit via the Doug Fister trade, is the favorite to step into the Tigers rotation in the wake of Anibal Sanchez' recent injury, according to MLive.com's Chris Iott. Ian Krol and Steve Lombardozzi have already made their respective marks on the Tigers season -- Krol in the bullpen, and Lombardozzi in a trade that briefly landed Detroit Alex Gonzalez.
The Tigers haven't indicated that Ray is their top choice, mainly because they might not need a significant contribution from a minor leaguer if Sanchez' lacerated finger heals quickly.
Ray, 22, has cruised through his first four starts of the year like one of those really awful Chryslers. He's posted a 1.93 ERA in 23⅓ innings for Triple-A Toledo. His strikeout rate dipped from the impressive numbers he put up in 2013, but Detroit doesn't have many -- or any -- preferable options.
Fister hasn't started a game yet this season due to a lat strain during spring training. He also had some elbow inflammation this spring, which inevitably led to whispering speculation that the Tigers somehow knew he was damaged goods before moving him. That might not be likely, but the club's return in the deal left something to be desired for most fans and pundits.
When Lombardozzi was shipped off for a 37-year-old shortstop -- the now-jobless Alex Gonzalez -- even more pressure came to rest on Ray's shoulders. Ian Krol has been one of the few bright spots in the Tigers' faltering bullpen, but a left-handed reliever isn't exactly what clubs tend to look for when dealing a starter with a 3.30 ERA over his last 90 starts or so.
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Ray could end up making Detroit general manager Dave Dombrowski look like a genius if he pitches that well in the majors -- or at least, no longer the clear-cut loser in the trade.
Sanchez isn't expected to be out for an extended period of time, but the Tigers could use as many talented pitchers as they can get in order to help their bullpen. So Ray could earn a spot on the roster as a reliever if he's successful enough to warrant a longer look. The Tigers might not want to allow him to tack on that much service time as a reliever, but they might not have another choice if Ray outpitches the team's struggling relief corps.