January 20th, 2010

Hold that thought on Phil Coke

I know it was a pretty big story when Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said Tuesday that lefty Phil Coke would be stretched out and potentially viewed as a contestant for the fifth starter’s spot. But manager Jim Leyland indicated he still sees Coke’s future in relief.

“Personally, I’m looking at him more as a bullpen guy,” Leyland said. “I think we’re going to have enough issues when you talk about Galarraga bouncing back and Bonderman bouncing back and Nate Robertson bouncing back and Dontrelle Willis bouncing back. There’s only so many innings.

“Am I ruling it out? No, I’m not. But you can only give so many innings to so many guys in Spring Training, and the one thing you want to make sure is that you’re getting the guys ready that you know need to be ready.”

That said, he has quite a few relievers, too. And now that he has Jose Valverde at the end of it, he thinks the rest of the bullpen is going to fall into place.

He did not hide his happiness for the Valverde deal.

“Getting a closer was just humongous for us,” Leyland exclaimed. “Now you can kind of work backwards and fill in some holes here and there. Here’s the sixth inning, seventh inning, eighth inning. Now Bonderman comes back, Zumaya comes back. Nate [Robertson] and Willis, you don’t know how that’s going to play out. But with Scherzer, Porcello, Verlander, all of a sudden you look pretty good.”

He also did not hide his hope for another left-handed hitter.

“We’d like to have one,” Leyland said. “It’s just not that easy to find.”

Other Leyland tidbits included his outlook on the catching situation, where Alex Avila’s potential playing time is a looming issue to determine whether or not he sticks with the big club.

“Normally playing time is dictated by performance,” Leyland said. “The better you play, the more you play. We obviously have a pretty solid everyday catcher that was as good defensively last year as anybody in the league but needs to produce a little more offensively. Alex got a little experience — not a whole lot, but some good experience last year.

“I think Gerald put a lot of pressure on himself last year at handling the staff, learning the pitchers. I’m not making excuses for him; but I think he’ll be better offensively this year. I may be wrong, but I believe that. I think last year he really concentrated on getting to know Verlander and the pitchers and make sure he was handling the running game and all those things that he did so well for us. I think he’ll relax a little bit more offensively this year and produce more. We need him to produce some more offensively, there’s no question about that. And he knows that.”

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