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A sometimes-irreverent look at Detroit's Boys of Summer, the Tigers, as they try to return to the top of the American League Central.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Right now, Tigers can't get lefties out very well

If you’re a left-handed hitter visiting Comerica Park, you have to be rubbing your hands together with glee.

No, it’s not Yankee Stadium (or even old Tigers Stadium) with an inviting overhang or second deck in right field.

You have to be excited, though, because right now, the Detroit Tigers bullpen has no one to bring in, specifically to get you out.

Oh, well they do have them, but ... as of late, they just haven’t been able to do so.

Once rosters expanded in September, the Tigers had three available left-handers — Phil Coke, Darin Downs and Drew Smyly — to get lefties out. None has been able to do it.

“Our lefties have had a little bit of a tough time with lefties lately. Cokie’s struggled a little bit and then Downs came in and walked two of them (Monday), so we’ve got to get that problem solved somehow,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said after he used two of the three in a 3-2 loss on Labor Day.

“One thing about it, left-handed relievers — and this is not being upset or anything, so please don’t write it like that — left-handed relievers are down there to get guys like that. That’s what their role is. You’ve got a backup catcher, and you’ve got a left-handed reliever. The backup catcher is to back up the regular, hope you help the team somehow. The left-handed relievers are a specialty to come in and get left-handers out. That’s what they’re there for. If you didn’t need them, you wouldn’t have them there to start the season.”

But Coke has allowed lefties to hit off him at a .265 clip (not to mention the ghastly .400 average he’s allowed to right-handers). In the second half, he's got a .525 ERA and a WHIP of 2.250, and has allowed opposing hitters to hit over .400 (with an OPS of more than 1.000) in August.

That’s led Leyland to trying other options, like Downs or Smyly, the former starter who’s in the bullpen as a long reliever.

Both have had opportunities, and neither has nailed it down.

It may get to the point where he has to use guys like Al Alburquerque or Brayan Villarreal — right-handers who are equipped to strike batters out — in their place.

“Well, if our lefties don’t get some guys out, I’m going to have to. But I really don’t want to. I mean, that’s what our lefties are down there for,” Leyland said. “But that’s a good question, because if they can’t then you’ve gotta go to the righties, but you’re not real comfortable doing that.”

While he hadn’t pitched in the first two games back with the team, after his return Sunday from offseason elbow surgery, Alburquerque only allowed lefties to hit .176 off him. Villarreal has actually held lefties (.196) to a lower average than righties (.200) this season.

But Leyland has wanted to try to ease Alburquerque back in a lower-leverage situation his first time out.

“I can get him in anywhere I want. But I didn’t want his first outing coming back to be a real strenuous one, because you don’t know. His first outing back, you know he’s going to be a little anxious. But he’ll pitch, obviously,” Leyland said.

“I have a lot of confidence in him, but I don’t know what for sure I’m going to see right this year. If you know you’re going to see what you saw last year ...”

If he can, like general manager Dave Dombrowski said, it will be like a trade acquisition.

“Yeah, I’m anxious to see him, to be honest with you. The right situation would dictate some of that. Yeah, I’m looking forward to pitching him. But I’m not going to just put him in the game to put him in the game,” Leyland said.

“The last report was that ... the last time out, he threw as good as he did at any time last year.”

Leyland had wanted to get Coke a few chances in lower-leverage situations, too, but had to nix that plan to bring him in for the ninth inning Monday. Coke wiggled out of a jam with a Houdini act of a double play, but it didn't necessarily inspire awe from his manager.

"Prince (Fielder) made a helluva play and bailed him out. But he did do that. I wouldn’t say it was a wipe-out inning for him," Leyland said.  "I wouldn’t say it’s a high concern factor, but you’ve got to get some outs. You’re running out of time.  ... What I was hoping for, to actually have happen, was maybe a situation or two where it’s not so strenuous right now, to try to get them going again. It’s what my preference would have been, but sometimes you don’t always have that option." 


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