By Ashley Dunkak
COMERICA PARK (CBS DETROIT) – Phil Coke is as aggravated as anybody about how the Detroit Tigers – himself included – are playing right now.
Coke entered the game in the ninth inning and only got one out, allowing three hits and a walk before being pulled in favor of Luke Putkonen. The Tigers lost their third straight, 3-1, to the Los Angeles Angels.
“I’m annoyed right now, man – how do you think I feel right now?” Coke said Thursday. “I’m not happy. I’m not excited about what I’ve done this season for this team. We’re way too good to be where we are in the standings.
“We’re way too good,” Coke continued, frustration building in his voice. “Our bullpen’s too good. We just haven’t clicked. I haven’t clicked. It just hasn’t happened. It’s going to happen. It has to. Something’s got to give, and it’s not going to be me.”
Tigers manager Jim Leyland said that, though Coke had a poor outing and is struggling, the team needs to stick with the reliever, who has a 0-5 record.
“You’ve got to pitch him,” Leyland said. “He won’t get better by sitting there. We wanted to give him an opportunity today to do something.”
“We’ve got to get Phil Coke going because if we don’t, we’re in trouble,” Leyland added. “We need Phil Coke to be good for us.”
Coke was not good for the Tigers Thursday, and before the frustration took hold, he sounded down in the clubhouse after the game.
“I feel like I’m not contributing in a positive way, and that’s a tough pill for me to swallow because I pride myself on what I do, and I haven’t got anything to show for it,” Coke said. “I don’t feel like I have anything positive, effect-wise, on our team.”
Starting pitcher Doug Fister, who allowed just one run in seven innings Thursday, said Coke was not to blame for the loss.
“You can’t put anything on one guy,” Fister said. “We’re a team, and we’re going to win as a team, we’re losing as a team, and that’s the way it goes.”
The bullpen had been under scrutiny earlier in the season, but since the starting pitching rotation has performed below its usual sky-high level over the past couple of weeks, the lack of depth in the bullpen has been more apparent than ever.
Without a full-time closer – Leyland said he wanted to pitch Joaquin Benoit in that role when possible – after sending Jose Valverde to Toledo, the most reliable pieces in the bullpen have been Benoit and Drew Smyly, with recent promising outings from Luke Putkonen and Al Albuquerque.
Putkonen has gotten just 14.2 innings of work this season, and Albuquerque just came up from Toledo last weekend.
Leyland said Wednesday that the bullpen is going through a time of transition and outlined some vague goals for what he wants to do with it.
“We’ve got to get to that where those guys are available more on a daily basis and the day off would be an exception, where you could use them two, possibly three days in a row one inning,” Leyland said. “That’s what we have to get to to get our bullpen straightened out.”
Recent short outings by the starting pitchers – only two pitchers have gone more than five innings in the last six games – have put even more pressure on the pen.
“We’ve been asking a lot,” Leyland added. “We’re trying to get where we can go Smyly, Alburquerque and Benoit, I’m not going to keep pitching those guys multiple innings more than I have to because then you lose them for days and you don’t have them when you need them for another game, so we’ve got to get in sync where we pitch those two guys one inning a piece and obviously Benoit an inning a piece.”