By: Jamie Samuelsen
Phil Coke throws the ball with his left arm.
Beyond that, there’s very little reason for him to be on the Tigers roster at this point.
Tuesday night was just the latest example of Coke’s rather remarkable ability to build a fire and then quickly fan the flames even when no hot spot even existed. Coke started the ninth inning of what was an 8-3 Tigers lead over the White Sox. He struck out the first two batters he faced. But seasoned Phil Coke watchers knew that there was still one large out to get. He allowed three two-out hits, the biggest of which was a massive two-run homer from left-handed slugger Adam Dunn. I suppose there’s no need to nibble around the edges with a four run lead in the ninth inning. But at the same time, Dunn normally either homers or strikes out. So the fact that Coke delivered a cookie to a noted Tiger killer was especially alarming.
Coke’s stats this season are awful. He’s thrown four innings in six games. Opposing hitters are batting .400 against him. His ERA is 13.50. His WHIP is 2.25. Granted, this is a ridiculously small sample size to judge any player. Prior to last night’s game, some were worried about the slow start of Miguel Cabrera. But a double and an opposite field homer has quieted that talk for at least a day.
But this isn’t a sample size for Coke. This has been his story for the last two seasons. In 2013, Coke pitched in 49 games and compiled an 0-5 record with a 5.40 ERA. Opposing hitters were .291 against him. Worst of all, it was clear that manager Jim Leyland just wasn’t comfortable going to him when the game was on the line. And stop before you start suggesting that he’s some sort of left-handed specialist. Left-handed hitters actually had a higher average against Coke last year than right-handed hitters did. And last time I checked, Dunn hits from the left side of the plate.
Most major league teams carry an eleven or twelve man pitching staff. That means that there are roughly 340 pitchers on rosters right now. It’s rather plain to see that there aren’t enough quality pitchers to fill all of those spots. The Tigers are no different. When manager Brad Ausmus walks out to the mound to remove a pitcher, it’s impossible to think that he’s going to be 100% thrilled with whatever reliever is walking through the bullpen door. And to be fair to Coke – he allowed three runs in 2/3rds of an inning in his first outing of the year on April 5 against Baltimore. In his four outings between that appearance and last night, he threw three innings and didn’t allow an earned run.
Doesn’t that make you feel better?
The Tigers bullpen is a major concern. And unlike Cabrera, there’s not a whole lot of optimism that it’s going to get better. Coke is clearly part of the problem. And for the time being, Ausmus would be wise to use him only when completely necessary, which is basically what he’s done this season. He’s not a stopper. He’s not a left-handed specialist. He’s a pitcher. And if he can eat an inning here or there when the game is out of hand, that’s what it’s going to have to be. Because as bad as Coke was last night, the Tigers still won the game 8-6. And as long as that trend continues, the Tigers will have to chew their fingernails and hope for the best. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen very much for Coke.