By: Jeff Riger
I think it’s safe to say that Detroit Tigers fans everywhere feel like they have hopped in a time machine and went back to the regular season in 2012. Remember those feelings of leaving runners stranded last season? Yep, they are back and more intense as the Tigers seem to be doing it on an every game basis. Detroit has lost four in a row and has scored just six runs in their last five games and have left a combined 44 runners stranded in those games. It’s infuriating to watch.
Even having Victor Martinez back is not helping.
The Tigers are 9-9 this season and while it’s still way too early to make any kind of negative or positive conclusion about this team, some fans don’t care and have already decided that blame needs to be assessed and stern action needs to be taken. Of course, I disagree. The same thing happened last season and then the next you know the team was in the World Series, so let’s all not freak out just yet. It makes us look really bad.
However there is one issue that I wanted to address this with this blog.
There are a group of callers who love to call our station and blame manager Jim Leyland for everything that goes on with this team. Even if the Tigers were in first right now with the best record in the game, fans would still bash Leyland because that is just what they do. From the line-up decisions to giving guys ample rest to always seeming to have Don Kelly in a game, fans rake Leyland over the coals and usually I disagree. In fact I believe the Skipper has done a good job early in the season.
But, I do have one beef…
Yesterday the Tigers and Angels were tied at 3 in extra innings. Detroit had used Doug Fister for 7 innings, Al Alburquerque for 2 innings, Joaquin Benoit for 1 and then Phil Coke for 2 plus innings. The bullpen was fantastic. Alburquerque and Benoit only allowed one Angel hit and Coke had allowed none through 2 innings. What more could you ask for? A pen that has been criticized early in the season for being a train wreck was great on Sunday and really has not been the problem recently.
But then Leyland allowed Coke to come back out for a third inning, something that Coke rarely if ever has done as a reliever. Coming into the game, right handers were hitting .364 against Coke and while the lefty has been better against righties lately, he still struggles. His numbers will tell you that. Coke had already retired his fair share of right handed hitters in his 2 innings of work as he sent guys like Albert Pujols, Mike Trout and Peter Bourjos back to the dugout. But then he came back out for that third inning, an inning when he was scheduled to face 3 more right handed hitters but he only had to face one as Mark Trumbo took Coke deep and won the game with a walk off solo home run.
It was a heartbreaker.
But why did Leyland feel the need to go back to Coke? He did have other options.
After the game the manager clarified that Octavio Dotel was still suffering from inflammation in his arm and Drew Smyly could not pitch because he threw almost 6 innings the night before so they were out.
But, Darin Downs and Brayan Villareal were still available for action. Right?
Leyland claimed he didn’t want to pitch Villarreal for a third consecutive game and Downs was a lefty so he didn’t want to throw him against 3 right handed hitters. So he went back to Coke.
I would argue Coke was a ticking time bomb. He has never been good against right handed hitters and after what the Tigers got from him through 2 innings how could anyone expect that success to continue? The Tigers should have been ecstatic and moved on but instead Leyland gave Coke more right handed hitters. Whatever happened to putting guys in a position where they will succeed? This seems like the complete opposite.
I understand that Villarreal has not been good; his 20.77 ERA will tell you that. However over his last 3 outings he has only allowed 2 hits and 1 run and he is right handed. Villarreal got out of a giant jam Wednesday night when the Tigers were playing the Mariners in extra innings so maybe he is turning the corner? As for Leyland not wanting him to pitch in 3 consecutive games, I’m not buying that either. There is an off day today and Leyland will get the rest of his pen back for Tuesday’s game against the Royals. Pitch Villarreal! I know it sounds dumb begging for a guy that has been the early season goat but everybody knew that Coke would not make it out of that 13th inning, Villarreal might have.
Leyland is constantly saying that if a guy is on his roster then he will use him. Why not use Villarreal yesterday?
As for Downs, yes he is another lefty but right handers are hitting just .125 against him. He has allowed just 2 hits against 18 batters this season. It’s not the perfect situation, but it seems like Downs would have been a better option than Coke a third time around.
I know I sound like I’m nit picking right now but Detroit needed that game yesterday. Coke was the wrong decision plain and simple.
Oh, one more thing…
Score more than 6 runs in 5 games and there is no need for this blog.
Am I way off base here? Let me know!