By: Will Burchfield
It’s clear cut and obvious that Francisco Rodriguez can’t be called upon to close another game for the Tigers. Not for now, at least. The trickier question might be this: Who should replace him?
Here are five candidates, two with the Tigers and three with the Triple-A Mud Hens.
1. Justin Wilson
This is the most obvious option. Wilson has been dominant so far for the Tigers, posting a 1.32 ERA and a 0.59 WHIP through 15 appearances. He boasts a sterling 5.5 K/BB ratio and has looked like a much more complete pitcher with his refined repertoire.
Truly, it’d be silly for the Tigers to look further than Wilson.
But if they do…
2. Alex Wilson
The logic in going with Alex over Justin is that the latter could be kept in his eighth inning role, where’s he’s been nothing but fantastic. Wilson might not have the high-powered arsenal to be a closer, but he does have the numbers. He was arguably Detroit’s best reliever in 2016 and he hasn’t skipped a beat in 2017. Through 13 appearances, he has a 2.25 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP.
3. Arcenio Leon
Though likely not a familiar name to Tigers fans, Leon was one of four players who Brad Ausmus singled out during spring training and he has excelled thus far in Triple-A Toledo. He is seven for eight in save opportunities and boasts a 0.69 ERA, a 0.53 WHIP and a .130 batting average against. The 30-year-old was the Reliever of the Year in the Mexican League in 2016.
4. Joe Jimenez
This one comes with an asterisk, that being that Jimenez tweaked his back on Wednesday and hasn’t pitched for the Mud Hens since. The team doesn’t consider the injury serious but it’s enough to push Jimenez to the back burner for now. Assuming he makes it back to Detroit in due time – “I’d be surprised if he didn’t,” said Brad Ausmus last week – the young flamethrower will have to prove more effective against big-league hitters before the Tigers entrust him with the closer’s role.
5. Bruce Rondon
A serious long shot here, given Rondon’s ineffectiveness as a big-league closer in the past and the Tigers’ general disappointment with him earlier this season. But it bears mention that Rondon has pitched well since being sent down to Triple-A Toledo in April, with a 1.59 ERA and a .238 batting average against over six outings. Of course, Rondon has proven his ability in the minors many times before — it’s the hurdle in the majors that he’s still trying to clear.