LAKELAND, Fla. – Despite giving up his first runs of spring training, Andy Oliver looks as if he has the edge for the Tigers' No. 5 starter role.
Oliver struggled with his control and allowed a three-run homer in Detroit's 7-3 loss to the Twins on Wednesday. Still manager Jim Leyland is enthusiastic about him.
"I like him a lot," Leyland said. "He was pumped up and overthrowing, but that's OK. He can help this team. He pitched well and just gave up a three-run homer. He's going to be fine."
Oliver had gone nine innings without allowing a run, plus three more in a pre-exhibition season start. On Wednesday, he went 3 2-3 innings and allowed three runs, but walked five.
The Tigers have few spots on the opening-day roster, but Leyland is concerned about the fifth starter behind Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello, and Doug Fister.
Oliver has been ahead of the competition, but gave up the homer to Luke Hughes, the first he's given up all spring.
"I was a little out of rhythm," Oliver said. "I tried to do a little too much. I got some ground balls, but I need to get ahead in the count and not walk batters. That's what I will take out of this."
Oliver has only seven major league appearances in two seasons with the Tigers — all starts — but Leyland has said all along that he is impressed by what he's seen from Oliver, a former second-round draft pick out of Oklahoma State.
Oliver walked the bases loaded in the fourth and he was pulled because he reached his pitch count. Adam Wilk, another contender for the fifth spot in the Tigers rotation, came in and stranded all three on base.
Defense is an issue in Detroit.
With Miguel Cabrera sidelined for at least a week after getting hit in face while fielding a grounder, Brandon Inge shifted back to third base from second.
Inge said he felt comfortable back at third although he knows it's just temporary. He's competing with Ryan Raburn, who leads the Grapefruit League in homers with six, for the second base job. Inge said he would play anywhere.
"Playing third was no problem," said Inge, despite making a throwing error. "I am just assuming I need to be ready to play anywhere. I felt at home at third, but anywhere is no big deal."
Leyland said Inge will not see much action at third even though Cabrera may or may not be ready for opening day.
"Don't read anything into it," Leyland said. "He can play third base any day including Christmas Day, but we'll be using him at second."
Liam Hendriks improved his chances on claiming one of the openings in Minnesota's starting rotation, allowing two runs in four innings, while striking out two. He allowed a homer to Delmon Young, his fifth, but keeps catching the eye of Twins manager Ron Gardenhire.
"Hendriks did fine," Gardenhire said. "They jumped on him early, but he picked it up. We like Hendriks. He can change speeds and do all the things we need him to do."
Matt Maloney struck out three in two innings following Hendriks to stretch his scoreless streak to 9 1-3 innings. He was claimed by the Twins from Cincinnati in October. He was 0-3 with a 9.16 ERA in eight appearances for the Reds last season.
Twins RHP Carl Pavano will start on Thursday against the Orioles in Fort Myers. He'll be followed by RHP Matt Capps, LHP Glen Perkins, LHP Brian Duensing, and RHP Kyle Waldrop. . Justin Morneau, the 2006 AL MVP entered Wednesday's game with a batting average of .100. He didn't make the trip to Lakeland. ... LHP Drew Smyly, a longshot for the Tigers vacant fifth starters spot, will pitch on Thursday in a minor league game. . Leyland said in his pregame conference that managing in the American League is more difficult than the National League. "In the National League, your decisions are already made," Leyland said. "In the American League you have some players who have fun with playing DH and others who want nothing to do with it. . The Tigers will have their only off-day of the spring season Thursday except for those who play in the minor league game. . There is no further word on the Cabrera's progress. He is expected to miss a week. There are no plans to put him on the disabled list. . Porcello went 5 2-3 innings, allowing one walk and one hit, and striking out six against the Washington Nationals' Triple-A team.