Tigers planning to use Phil Coke as a starter next season

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After acquiring Phil Coke from the Yankees this winter the Tigers talked about potentially putting him into the rotation, but eventually decided to keep him in the bullpen.
He’s had a strong season, posting a 3.57 ERA and 51/25 K/BB ratio in 63 innings as a left-handed setup man, but the Tigers haven’t given up on the idea of him being a starter and in fact manager Jim Leyland announced today that Coke will head into spring training as a penciled-in member of the 2011 rotation.
“I’ve told Coke I’m 99.9 percent sure of it,” Leyland said. “But I’m not going to discuss it any more than that. If I change my mind, I don’t want him to think I lied to him. But I don’t think that’s going to happen.”
Coke will make his first career start this afternoon against the Orioles after working out of the bullpen in each of his first 157 appearances. However, he was primarily a starter in the minors and hasn’t shown much of a platoon split in the majors, shutting down lefties while also holding righties to .241/.332/.359.
I’m always in favor of giving pitchers every opportunity to fill a 200-inning role before putting them into a 60-inning role for the long haul, and certainly at 27 years old Coke looks capable of developing into a solid mid-rotation starter in Detroit. Right now the Tigers’ projected 2011 rotation is Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello, Coke, and Armando Galarraga, with Jeremy Bonderman likely departing as a free agent.

Jonny Venters is still pitching

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Lefty reliever Jonny Venters was among a handful of players the Rays signed to minor league contracts, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports.

Venters, 32, hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2012 and has logged just 27 2/3 innings in the minors in the meantime due to a continuous battle with his elbow. According to David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Venters has undergone four — four! — Tommy John surgeries.

When he was healthy, Venters was a fearsome late-game option for the Braves. He posted a 1.95 ERA with 93 strikeouts in 83 innings in 2010, and a 1.84 ERA with 96 strikeouts in 88 innings in 2011. His first-half performance in 2011 earned him a spot on the National League All-Star roster.

Venters has spent the last two years in the Rays’ system and he’ll try to make it a third.