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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.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Coke shut down for a few days with elbow soreness

DETROIT — Phil Coke has not fared well in his last few outings, to be sure, but there might be a reason.

The veteran left-handed reliever was unable to get through the Mariners’ run of lefties in the eighth inning of Wednesday’s game, leaving with the bases loaded. Three earned runs would eventually go on his record.

Maybe a better question than ‘Is Coke pitching himself out of a postseason roster spot?’ might be whether or not he’ll even be available.

The lefty complained of soreness in his elbow after the game, and he was examined by the team physician after the game.

“Phil came in last night after the game, complaining of some tenderness in his elbow, felt like he couldn’t finish his pitches,” head trainer Kevin Rand said. “We had an exam, and we’re shutting him down for the next couple of days.”

It’s the first time the issue had cropped up.

Of the 21 pitches Coke threw Wednesday, six were breaking balls. Five of those went for strikes, three were put into play, two of them for outs.

The three earned runs runs gave Coke an ERA of 11.57 in September, following his return to the team after his hiatus in Toledo to work on control issues. Prior to Wednesday, though, he had not allowed a run in five outings. At the moment, left-handed batters are hitting .299 against Coke.

The Tigers have three other lefties in the bullpen: Drew Smyly, Jose Alvarez and Darin Downs. Smyly is a lock to be on the postseason roster, should the Tigers get there. The other lefty slot is still a mystery.

“I’ll make this simple. Phil’s just not making good enough pitches to get big league hitters out right now. He’s hanging his breaking ball, he’s throwing the ball in the middle of the plate. I mean, it’s as simple as that. Certainly nobody’s upset with him. But that’s the simple fact. I’ll answer it that way and we’ll move on to the next question. He’s just not throwing good enough pitches to get big league hitters out right now,” manager Jim Leyland said.

Nor was it just a case of giving Coke a chance to pitch his way out of his funk.

“It’s a little late to be experimenting,” Leyland said. “Obviously (Alvarez) and Smyly wasn’t available tonight, Phil Coke’s a veteran that’s got good stuff. Right now, as I said before, and we’ll stop this conversation about Phil Coke right after it, he’s just not making -- and I’m not defending anybody and I’m not criticizing anybody -- he is just not making good enough pitches to get big league hitters out right now. Next question.”

The next question might be, if not Coke, who?

Downs has not pitched since Sept. 1, when he was still with the Triple-A Toledo club. He held left-handed batters to a .233 average against, but his effectiveness slipped before he went on the disabled list with tendinitis in his throwing shoulder in early July.

Despite his recent effective relief outings, Alvarez has allowed lefties a .279 batting average in the big leagues this season.

“Our bullpen looks good. The lefties are doing good. Coke was looking good for a minute right there,” Torii Hunter said. “He’s going to be the key for us. We want him to step it up, because we’re going to need him. He’s throwing 95, 96. We need that in the bullpen.”


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