Reporting Ashley Dunkak
DETROIT (CBS DETROIT) – Once regarded as the insurmountable weakness of an otherwise World Series-bound team, the Detroit Tigers bullpen is edging back toward respectability.
“We’ve got some sense of order, finally,” manager Jim Leyland said. “I’m happy about that. I feel pretty comfortable with it. We’ve still got a couple hurdles to jump over, but I think we’re doing pretty good. We’ve got some pretty good firepower down there late now.”
That confidence starts with Joaquin Benoit and Drew Smyly.
Benoit moved seamlessly into the closer role after Jose Valverde was sent to Triple-A Toledo and has eight saves in eight opportunities to go with his 1.69 ERA and 1.071 WHIP.
Smyly has a 2.00 ERA and 0.963 WHIP over 54 innings of relief.
Though 24-year-old Smyly did not get All-Star recognition, Benoit can still be voted in by fans. For Detroit starting pitcher Rick Porcello, his teammates’ inclusion is a no-brainer.
“Smyly and Benoit have been outstanding,” Porcello said. “Both of those guys are more than deserving of going to the All-Star Game.”
Another upgrade in the bullpen is the recent call-up of Bruce Rondon from Triple-A Toledo. Originally hailed as the closer for the team this year, Rondon had a rough couple outings in the majors before spending most of the first half back in the minors. Now he has returned, and Leyland is optimistic.
“He’s a weapon,” the skipper said. “I was glad to see him throw some sliders because it makes the fastball better, and when it’s a fastball like that, it makes it a lot better, so he’s – like I said, he’s not a finished product, but he’ll be fine.”
“To expect him to come up here and wipe out the big leagues night after night, that’s not going to happen,” Leyland continued. “He’s got a lot of ways that he can help our ball club, and I think he will. That’s why, some nights that he doesn’t, which is going to happen, you just can’t get too excited.”
Porcello said the biggest difference he has seen in the bullpen is an improvement in the ability to throw strikes, a trend he sees across the pitching staff as a whole.
“Everybody on the staff is really doing a lot better job,” Porcello said. “That’s the biggest thing. If you don’t throw strikes, you’re not going to have a chance to get guys out.”
Porcello said pitching coach Jeff Jones has been instrumental in the excellence of the starting pitching and the improvement in the bullpen.
“He’s great at not only looking at your physical mechanics and dissecting stuff and helping you make adjustments there, but he’s also really good with the mental aspect of the game, which is at times a much more difficult part of the game,” Porcello said. “He’s helped me a lot, and I know he’s helped a lot of the other guys tremendously too.”
As solid as Smyly and Benoit are, with Rondon still learning to pitch at the big-league level, the Tigers desperately need more dependability from the rest of the bullpen.
“They’re doing a good job, but we’ve still got other people down there that need [to] and will contribute,” Leyland said. “That’s going to be important because you can’t pitch the same two guys each and every night, so we’ve got a lot of guys down there who will be in a position to get some opportunities, obviously, and they need to step it up.”