By Ashley Dunkak
COMERICA PARK (CBS DETROIT) – For those who watched Phil Coke last season, the following numbers may be hard to fathom: Coke has not allowed a run in seven straight outings. In fact, Coke gave up runs in just two of 14 outings in June.
The Detroit Tigers reliever, who became the bane of the bullpen during a wretched 2013 season, has quietly turned a corner.
Coke says he is just going out and trying to do his job; he has zero interest in hearing the statistics that demonstrate his recent improvement. Even as he talked about factors that have allowed him to pitch better in 2014, he jokingly ran back to his wooden locker and knocked on it – and on the bald dome of an elder sports writer – so as not to jinx himself.
As Coke sees it, health has made the difference between how he has pitched this season and how he pitched last season.
“The only thing that’s really changed is that I feel physically better,” Coke said Monday night, when his scoreless outing turned out to be a footnote for a game that ended with a walk-off grand slam. “Not only is the ball coming out better, I feel confident in what I’m doing to get the ball to the plate. Physically I felt terrible last year – absolutely terrible. I didn’t have the ability to locate the ball as well as I have been. Physically I didn’t feel like I had the ability.”
Coke has found the ability now. The injuries – a groin issue that put him on the disabled list and later an elbow problem – plagued him throughout last season, but those ailments have since vanished. Coke cannot pinpoint when he felt his full ability return, but he is certainly glad to see it again.
“Just showed up,” Coke said, then laughed as he reenacted the reunion. “Seriously, just one day I was like, ‘Oh! Weird! Where have you been? I’ve been needing you for a while and you’ve been abandoning me. What’s going on?’
“I feel really good considering, especially being this deep in the season,” Coke continued later. “I feel really good overall, and the ball’s coming out nicely. I’m not going to complain.”
Tigers manager Brad Ausmus will not complain either. Coke qualified as one of the biggest question marks for the Detroit bullpen going into this season, but throughout the last month, he has been one of the more reliable relievers.
“Take April away and he’s pitched pretty well,” Ausmus said. “He’s pitched in some higher-pressure situations and come up big for a number of times, especially one this last road trip.”
Having dropped steadily over the last month, Coke’s ERA for the season is 5.16, and his ERA for the month of June is 2.92.