DETROIT (CBS Detroit) — Ever the topic of conversation, the Detroit Tigers’ lackluster bullpen is again in the spotlight early this season.
However, if you ask manager Brad Ausmus, the bullpen isn’t the story of why the team lost to the Seattle Mariners in the rubber match of a three-game set at Comerica Park on Thursday — even though closer Francisco Rodriguez relinquished the game-winning hit in the ninth inning.
“We know he can pitch better, but I wouldn’t rush to judgement,” Ausmus said. “I would give him a little more time just based on the track record and the year he had just in 2016.”
Rodriguez has six saves in eight opportunities so far in 2017, but has tallied a 6.23 ERA and given up three home runs in just 8 2/3 innings pitched.
K-Rod got off to a rocky start to last season as well. He posted a 5.19 ERA in March and April, but settled in to save 44 games for the Tigers.
Fans will be quick to blame Rodriguez for Thursday’s loss, but Ausmus won’t. The fourth-year manager said Friday that fans and the media in Detroit have an obsession with the bullpen — be it good or bad.
“If you know the game of baseball, you’ve got to look at each game individually and understand what happened,” Ausmus told 97.1 The Ticket’s Jeff Riger. “I know you’ve got to play to your audience — which is what you’re doing. They want to call in and talk about it so you have to ask about it, but it’s not the story. Some days it is — don’t get me wrong. Some days it is the story, but the last three days it hasn’t been the story.”
The Tigers have the Major Leagues’ worst bullpen, statistically. Its 6.72 ERA and 1.73 WHIP are both dead last in the MLB.
Many fans were left confused when the team did little to change its bullpen following last season, which also ranked near the bottom of the league. The Tigers didn’t acquire a single relief pitcher during the offseason (unless you count Victor Alcantara who came over in exchange for Cameron Maybin. Alcantara is currently pitching for Double-A Erie).
“I know in this town there’s a big focus on — when we don’t win or even if we do win — what the bullpen does,” Ausmus said. “But you’ve got to understand if you know baseball what is actually the root cause of a win and loss. Frankie Rodriguez was not the root cause yesterday.”
There may be another culprit to blame for people judging Tigers relief pitchers too quickly, Ausmus thinks.
“I do think, maybe it’s because of social media, I do think there’s much quicker rush to judgement on players in baseball today than there was even when I played,” Ausmus said.
The Tigers, however, have been quick to bench struggling relievers. Bruce Rondon, Kyle Ryan and William Cuevas have all been sent to the minors after posting sky-high ERAs. One would only imagine Anibal Sanchez might be next on the list, but Ausmus said patience is key in baseball.
“The patience in baseball has waned in a sport where patience is paramount,” Ausmus said.