Tigers need to see more stomping from Phil Coke
But the Tigers still need him to come back in more ways that just his physical presence.
They need him to be back to his nasty self against left-handed hitters, back to a guy that can be trusted in late-inning situations, like he was in the postseason last year, and as he has been since they acquired him.
“We need him. He’s important to us. If we’re going to be good, he has to be good. At the end of the day, in the grand scheme of things, he’s going to have to be good for us,” manager Jim Leyland said Sunday morning.
“He’s a key component.”
But does that just mean in a lefty specialist role, or against all hitters? That’s a valid question, considering right-handed batters are hitting .345, slugging .586 against Coke this season, well above their career rate (.301/.439) against the lefty.
“That includes: be good for us. I don’t care if they’re ambidextrous. I don’t give a (crap) how they hit,” Leyland said.
Coke entered Saturday’s game in a perfect spot, facing a pair of lefties in the eighth — Justin Morneau and Chris Parmelee — sandwiched around right-handed rookie Chris Colabello, who had a total of one career big-league hit.
He got Morneau to fly out, then struck out both Colabello and Parmelee, and stomped off the mound — the exit he usually makes, if things are going well.
“He did all right. He made one bad pitch that they flied out on, but he did pretty good,” Leyland said. “It was a pretty good situation for us, and I thought he responded pretty well. We gotta get him going. He’s important for us. ....
“We need to get him out there a little more often, and that’s my job. But that’s the thing when you got three lefties in the bullpen, it’s hard to keep three lefties going all the time, if your starters are going pretty good.”
Leyland has had to get innings for Coke, along with fellow lefties Drew Smyly and Darin Downs. And Coke has only pitched in five games since his return from the disabled list on May 11.
“In fairness to him, I gotta get him out there a little more to keep him sharp. That’s been my fault. Not his fault. My fault,” said Leyland, admitting that Coke regaining command of his breaking ball is still a work in progress. “I think that he’s gotta complete the mission. I think he throws two good ones, and then has a tendency once in a while to throw one that’s not quite as good.
“When he completes the mission, he’s really good. And he is really good.”