By Ashley Dunkak
COMERICA PARK (CBS DETROIT) – As upset as people have been about the Detroit Tigers bullpen, at least they could take comfort in the team’s indomitable starting rotation.
The last five starting pitching performances might have stripped some of that confidence – and with good reason.
Tuesday night, Rick Porcello left the game after four and one-third innings. On June 23, Justin Verlander labored through five innings. Max Scherzer went seven on June 22, but Doug Fister lasted just three and two-thirds on June 21, and on June 20 Jose Alvarez went five innings.
The bottom line is that Detroit starters have lasted just five innings or fewer in four of the last five games.
The five games before that, between June 16 and June 20, three of five pitchers went at least six innings.
One rotation earlier, from June 9 to June 14, all five starters had lasted six or more innings. Four of the five went at least seven, with Fister going eight.
It has been a steady decline since that point, but Tigers skipper Jim Leyland thinks too much worry would be premature.
“If you’re getting four or five innings out of your starters you’re going to be concerned,” Leyland said. “You can’t downplay it and say that you’re not, but I’m not ready to make a big deal about it just yet.”
It is not surprising that Detroit’s starting rotation is finally slowing down. It would have been impossible to maintain that level of performance for the entirety of the season.
Now, however, the bullpen that has been such a question mark has to spend more time on the field.
Entering an already bad situation Tuesday, Darin Downs lasted only one-third of an inning, allowing three hits, one walk and two earned runs. Evan Reed, following Downs, allowed four unearned runs by giving up a hit and walking two batters.
Luke Putkonen allowed two hits but no runs, and Phil Coke finished out the game with a walk but no runs.
If nothing else, the recent lapse in excellence by the starting pitchers might get the relief pitchers off the hook, at least temporarily.
“We’ve had a rash … of starts recently that dictated we go to the bullpen way, way too early,” Leyland said, “and no bullpen will withstand that.”