By Ashley Dunkak

CBS DETROIT – In four of his last five outings, Detroit Tigers reliever Phil Coke has held opposing hitters without a run. Sunday, he got out Boston Red Sox super slugger David Ortiz at the end of the seventh and also threw a scoreless eighth inning.

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“I feel really good,” Coke said. “Long time coming. I was able to attack the zone and just let things happen. It was really nice.”

Ortiz would end up sinking the Tigers later, with a three-run blast that gave the Red Sox the win, 5-3. For Coke, however, the solid performance was a breath of fresh air and long overdue.

“The last two years have been really sub-par, especially by my standards,” Coke said. “I’ve pitched really bad. From just feeling absolutely terrible and not having a feel for what’s going on as far as physically speaking, the injuries I had last year, things like that, they set you back, and it’s really tough to get your feet back under you and really get going again.”

In his first performance of this season, Coke got shelled for three runs in one-third of an inning. A little more than two weeks later, Coke gave up three runs in two-thirds of an inning. His first appearance in May, Coke allowed two runs in an inning. Between April 5 and May 3, his ERA over eight appearances was 9.39. Opposing hitters were batting .382 against him.

Coke did not offer a reason for his early troubles, but he realizes the sorry statistics feed the public perception of him.

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“It’s one thing when you’re more known for being a slow starter and you’re going out there and having struggles early and then you look up there and you see things like ERAs and stuff like that at this point in the season and people are like, ‘Oh, this guy’s washed up,'” Coke said, “but it’s a matter of three or four different outings right at the beginning of the season when I was pitching once every seven days.”

Coke now has a 6.00 ERA thanks to a handful of multiple-run outings – five, to be exact – in which he allowed 12 runs. In Coke’s other 14 outings, he has surrendered just two runs. He seems to be trending in the right direction, at least in the tiny sample size of his four outings in June. At the very least, Tigers manager Brad Ausmus appreciated Coke’s contribution Sunday.

“It was a big outing for him. It was a big outing for us,” Ausmus said. “Got, obviously, some big outs. Really, protected us in a number of ways, not only because he pitched well but he protected us in the sense that if we did go extra innings, we didn’t have to just burn a guy for – Phil Coke for David Ortiz, so to speak. He was able to go deeper down in the lineup and protect us in case we had to go 10. 11, 12 innings.”

Coke appreciates the manager’s faith in him.

“It means a lot because he has specific things for me and I’ve been able to, for the most part, do those things, and that’s extend the game so we don’t have to get into our bullpen right away,” Coke said. “It’s been a little bit of a difference, going multiple innings multiple times, but it’s been fun. I’ve enjoyed it.”

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