Penny, Schlereth save depleted bullpen
Give this to Brad Penny: Even when he doesn’t have his best stuff, he finds a way to get through innings. He had two quality starts in his first six outings leading into Tuesday’s rematch against the Yankees, but he pitched into the seventh inning in half of his starts, including seven-inning performances in each of his last two outings.
It took some work, and a little help, but he got through six innings when the Tigers arguably needed them most. Once he did, Daniel Schlereth turned what was essentially a three-man bullpen Tuesday night into a two-man job to cover the final three innings.
Even Penny wasn’t quite sure how they pulled it off.
“They had me on the hook early,” Penny said. “They had me [looking at a] five-inning start. You better believe it. And I don’t know, the second time through, every one of them were swinging first pitch, second pitch. Today my stuff wasn’t great, and they bailed me out.”
The first two innings took 49 pitches out of Penny, almost evenly split between them. He faced four full counts his first time through the Yankees batting order. After that, though, the long at-bats seemed to disppear, and early outs seemed to emerge.
It’s possible Penny wasn’t giving himself enough credit for it, because others did.
“He knows what he’s doing; mixes it up a little bit,” Derek Jeter said. “Early on, we got his pitch count up pretty good, but we just couldn’t get too many things going. When he first came up, he’d just rear it back and throw it by you. And now it seems like he’s pitching a little bit more.”
He’s pitching, all right, with a slightly different arsenal.
“The second time through the order, we kind of changed speeds a little bit,” Avila said. “He threw a few more offspeed pitches, a few more curveballs earlier in the count, and we were able to get a lot of first-pitch outs that way. But the thing with him: He’s been able to find a two-seamer, a sinker. When he’s been able to locate that, that’s his best pitch. When he’s able to locate his fastball, it just makes everything else better.”
What saved him more pitches in his later innings, and certainly saved the Tigers some potentially tough decisions on whether to go to the bullpen, were the outs on the basepaths. The Yankees tried an ill-advised test of Casper Wells in right field, seemingly not knowing the arm Wells had to throw out Andruw Jones at the plate. More valuable were the back-to-back outs that Robinson Cano and Jorge Posada made between first and second.
Penny, it turns out, was dealing with a sore intercostal muscle at the time. He insists he could’ve pitched another inning, but Leyland wanted to be cautious.
“We caught a break, and we took advantage of it,” manager Jim Leyland said. “But that was huge.”
Interesting to ponder whether Joe Girardi would’ve been so aggressive had he known about Wells’ arm, and especially about the Tigers’ bullpen and Penny’s nagging injury. But then, while Schlereth knew about the Tigers’ bullpen woes Monday, he didn’t know he’d be the solution of them.
With two innings and two hits, Schlereth inherited a 4-1 lead and left at 4-2, having filled two innings. He allowed a Mark Teixeira home run, but made sure no one else was on base for it.
“I knew I was going to throw the seventh probably,” Schlereth said. “And then with the right-handers coming up and with their switch-hitters coming up, I wasn’t totally sure Skip was going to keep me in there or not. But after coming into the dugout, he asked me if I was all right.”