DETROIT -- Reformatted rotations come into play Thursday afternoon when the Detroit Tigers host the Seattle Mariners in the finale of a four-game series.
Seattle has right-hander Adrian Sampson (0-1, 7.71 ERA) making his second start, as the Mariners are missing three starters from their usual rotation. Sampson will oppose Tigers lefty Daniel Norris, who will make his first major league start of the year.
The Mariners hopes to have Wade Miley (left shoulder impingement) back soon and then Felix Hernandez (strained right calf). On Wednesday, Seattle obtained lefty Wade LeBlanc from the Toronto Blue Jays' organization, and he will start Friday against the St. Louis Cardinals in place of right-hander Taijuan Walker, who is battling a sore right foot.
"Wade is throwing about as well as anybody in Triple-A this year," Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto told MLB.com. "He was available, and we snapped him up. He provides us with an experienced hand, and he's left-handed, which is something we don't have in our depth. So he gives us another internal option."
Like most teams, Seattle could use additional bullpen help, and toward that end, the team signed free agent former Mariners reliever Tom Wilhelmsen on Wednesday. He pitched well for Seattle in the past but struggled with Texas after being traded to the Rangers between seasons.
"We feel it was some combination of confidence, command and pitch selection," Dipoto said of Wilhelmsen. "I don't know if we're any more magical than the Rangers in tapping that, but Tom has worked well here before, his teammates trust him, and all the staff and everyone who've worked with him for years really like him."
Norris, who sparkled last season as a trade deadline acquisition from Toronto, will be called up from Triple-A Toledo to fill the rotation hole created when lefty Matt Boyd was optioned out. Norris pitched one scoreless inning in his lone major league appearance of the year, May 12 at Baltimore. He is 4-6 with a 4.66 ERA in 13 minor league starts.
The Tigers are being coy about exactly what their plans are, but they either will skip rookie right-hander Michael Fulmer altogether or occasionally push his starts back a day or three from now through mid-July or later.
Manager Brad Ausmus is returning Anibal Sanchez to the rotation from the bullpen after Jordan Zimmermann starts Friday night. Justin Verlander will follow Sanchez, the Tigers are off Monday, and Mike Pelfrey will pitch Tuesday on extra rest. Pelfrey will be available out of the bullpen during the weekend.
It will be at least six days of not pitching before Fulmer makes his next start, and with the day off, Ausmus could go back to Norris on normal rest and slot his rookie in wherever he wants.
"You've got to take the long view," Ausmus said of the team trying to control Fulmer's innings. "If we can get him a few less innings now but still have him available the last month of the season, I think that's probably the smarter way to go.
"We've looked really through the mid- towards the end of July.
"We'd like to not be caught where we have to shut him down. That's why you'd want to use caution now, to avoid that later."
What the rotation revamp also amounts to is an open audition for Norris, Sanchez and Pelfrey. One of those three won't be starting when Ausmus slides Fulmer back into the rotation.
"We'll just see how the guys pitch and then we'll make a decision," Ausmus said. "Despite his so-so outing the other day, Pelfrey's probably pitched the best over the past seven starts, in terms of results.
"We're just going to see how it goes. Hopefully they all pitch well and it's an extremely difficult decision.
"I just want the guys to go out and pitch their game and pitch well. We got to win games, we think this gives us our best chance, and we'll go from there when they've all had their day."
Sounds like a plan. Or the framework for one.