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Monday, May 20, 2013

Putkonen to be recalled from Toledo to rejoin depleted, battered bullpen



DETROIT — Considering the dearth of guys who fit the description in the Detroit Tigers’ bullpen at the moment, it seemed almost criminal that a guy who’d proven he could be a big-league pitcher wasn’t part of the equation.

That will be remedied Tuesday, when the Tigers will recall Luke Putkonen from Triple-A Toledo. He’ll fill the spot vacated Sunday when they optioned right-hander Evan Reed down after the national TV loss to the Rangers.

In fact, Reed’s spot probably already should have been Putkonen’s, if not for a roster rule that states a player (barring an injury replacement) must remain in the minors for 10 days before being recalled.

Putkonen was sent down on May 11, meaning he was unavailable to be recalled when the Tigers sent Al Alburquerque down on May 16, forcing the organization to bring up Reed instead.

He might not have gone down at all, had his spot not been needed to bring back veteran Phil Coke from the disabled list.

“It’s unfortunate that when something like this happens, somebody’s got to go down,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said at the time — his typical line in that situation, but with a little more explanation and emphasis this time.

“Putkonen did a terrific job for us in Houston. I think Putkonen’s a big-league pitcher right now, and I told him that. He’s a big-league pitcher that’s going to be pitching in the minor leagues. But don’t take anything for granted, go down and work hard, because he made a good impression here.”

Putkonen started Friday’s game for the Mud Hens against the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Railriders, and pitched four innings. By Tuesday, he’d have three days rest, so he’d be fully available by Wednesday at the latest.

And the Detroit bullpen can use him.

Despite a starting staff that had racked up the fourth-most innings in the American League, the pen was overworked in the four-game series against Texas by the starters’ inability to carry their share of the load. With the starters going just 15 2/3 combined innings (Rick Porcello went 5 2/3, Doug Fister 4 2/3, and Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez just 2 2/3 each), the bullpen had to suck up 17 1/3 innings of work in four days.

The bullpen gave up a total of nine earned runs on 20 hits in the series, but the vast majority of that (six runs, nine hits) came Sunday, when the unit was gassed.

How did it get there?

Saturday, Coke and Drew Smyly combined to allow one run on four hits in 5 1/3 innings.

Friday, four relieves combined for 3 1/3 shutout innings, allowing just three hits to preserve a 2-1 win, the team’s only victory in the series.

Thursday, Reed and Darin Downs gave up two earned runs on four hits in 5 1/3 innings of relief after Verlander’s early implosion.

It doesn’t help that there are several pieces that Leyland hasn’t found places for in the puzzle.

That’s in part because guys like Alburquerque, Brayan Villarreal, Bruce Rondon and Octavio Dotel — all of whom were expected to carry the load of middle relief — are all missing at the moment. Dotel is nursing elbow inflammation, and is not expected back anytime soon.

The other three are all working out control issues at Toledo.

That puts more of an onus on guys like Putkonen, Jose Ortega and Reed — none of whom were in the team’s immediate plans this spring — to pick up the slack.

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