By Ashley Dunkak
CBS DETROIT – Detroit Tigers reliever Phil Coke wanted to get in the game Sunday. He had given up a single, a triple and a walk in one-third of an inning in his 2014 debut on Saturday, racking up a one-game ERA of 81.00.
“I’m not going to sit here and make any excuses because they don’t do anything for you anyway, but physically I felt good,” Coke said Sunday. “Location-wise I was good, I wasn’t missing up in the zone or anything like that. Obviously I was giving up runs, but I wasn’t missing terribly in location.”
Detroit led Baltimore 7-1 on Saturday when Coke entered the game in the ninth inning. He gave up two runs, and a third runner whom he allowed to reach base scored later, so Coke was ultimately tagged with three earned runs. The relievers who followed him did not do much better. Al Alburquerque got the hook after facing just one batter and allowing a single, and closer Joe Nathan allowed a single and a ground rule double.
With the way Coke struggled last season and the poor performance Saturday, he will likely get the brunt of the criticism, but the rest of the bullpen has been shaky as well.
“I’m not going to sit here and point fingers or say anything negative,” Coke said. “Until the last out was made, we were the only undefeated team in baseball. Obviously it’s early. That’s exactly what people are going to say – ‘Oh, it’s early …’ Okay, that’s fine. Was I successful at doing my job yesterday? Obviously not. However, I’m not missing up, and I’m not giving up long balls.
“Everybody’s got early-season stuff they’re working out,” Coke added. “Joe’s not sharp like he wants to be. He said he felt tremendous, and the ball’s not coming out the way he knows it can and it should. When your closer says that, you listen to him, especially a guy like Joe.”
If Coke’s confidence is suffering after that rough debut outing, he is not letting on. He still believes he can get the job done.
“Why wouldn’t I feel that way?” Coke said. “I shouldn’t be here if I feel otherwise, honestly. That’s crazy talk, so yeah, of course I feel like I can get the job done.”
After Saturday’s game, new Tigers manager Brad Ausmus offered the well-worn caveat that relievers often find it harder to pitch in no-pressure situations than in close games.
“Coming into a seven-run lead or an eight-run lead is sometimes more difficult than coming in with a two-run lead because the adrenaline’s not there, the focus isn’t there, there’s not much anxiety for the hitters on the other side of the field,” Ausmus said. “The opponent, the offense at that point has nothing to lose. They can just go up there swinging, knowing that the pitcher has to throw strikes and get outs. It can be in some sense more difficult to come into a game with a big lead than it is with a smaller lead.
“I’m not overly concerned about it,” Ausmus continued, though he noted a moment later that these type of games – the Tigers gave up five runs in that ninth inning but hung on to win 7-6 – could make him go gray prematurely. “I certainly don’t want to go out and have games like that on a regular basis. I’ll wind up having the same color hair as you … We certainly don’t want a repeat of this with any type of frequency.”
Ausmus did not take a chance on Coke again Sunday, going with Alburquerque for the ninth inning instead.
“I really wanted to get back in there today,” Coke said Sunday. “I was able to come off the field and think about it and review it a little bit and see what locations I was having as far as the result with each pitch. To be able to get back out there today would have been awesome.”