Game 2: The day closer by committee got tested

Second-guesser’s delight, Jim Leyland predicted.

That was in spring training, when Leyland was asked about the possibility of not having a set closer. Even if Bruce Rondon made the Opening Day roster, it looked increasingly like the way to go.

Two games in, this was what he meant, though he didn’t say that after the 3-2 loss to the Twins. What he said was that they had a favorable situation once Phil Coke entered to retire Chris Parmelee on his first pitch for the first out of the ninth inning with the tying run on base.

“Once we got Parmelee out, we put ourselves in a pretty good situation,” Leyland said. “The next two hitters, Cokey got fastballs up and out over the plate both of them.”

Yes, they were right-handed hitters facing a left-handed pitcher who gave up a .396 (40-for-101) average to right-handed hitters last year, and .314 the year before. But this was the bottom of the Twins lineup, and this was a reliever who retired switch-hitting Ryan Doumit for the final out on Opening Day.

This was also the start of five games in five days, though they had just had a day off. And they have one more game against a Twins batting order that has enough righties, lefties and switch-hitters that it doesn’t lend itself well to playing pure batter-by-batter matchups.

Agree with the strategy or not, but Leyland was set. Once Coke entered the game, he was going to finish the inning, because nobody was warming up.

The Tigers had plenty of situations to lament, from not adding on runs in the innings when they scored — Kevin Correia stranded two on by retiring Price Fielder before Torii Hunter was later thrown out going first to third — to Darin Downs’ walk in the seventh to Joaquin Benoit’s leadoff walk in the ninth to neither Austin Jackson nor Andy Dirks making the play on the final ball.

“It’s hard to really call it when it’s hit in between you like that,” Jackson said. “You’re both going after it hard. I think once you start to get closer, you see each other out of the corner of your eye. A lot of people yelling, it’s tough for him to hear me or me to hear him. It’s just a tough play right there.”

The 100-pitch count on the starters also is having a major impact so far, forcing the bullpen to cover 12 outs instead of nine in a lament out of the 2008 or 2009 Tigers.

Take all those situations into account and then toss them. In most cases this year, it’s the bullpen usage that will get the scrutiny, rightly or wrongly (mostly wrongly).

Tigers starters have 10 scoreless innings on five hits with 12 strikeouts. Detroit’s bullpen has given up five runs on five hits and seven walks in 7 1/3 innings so far this year. Two walks and two hits came out of the ninth inning Wednesday on what was admittedly an off-night for the lefty Coke.

He left two fastballs up and over the plate, and that’s going to be a problem whether he’s facing a right- or left-handed hitter. He wasn’t trying to get cute against the eighth and ninth hitters in the Twins lineup.

“I can’t control the results. I mean, if a guy still takes a good swing on a fastball and does the same thing and I finish my pitch, then he just beats me,” Coke said. “I’m irritated with the result, but I didn’t locate. That’s on me. I lost the game for us today, and I’m not happy about it.”

That’s one game. That doesn’t mean he’s sunk, nor the closer by committee at this point. Not yet, anyway. It is, however, an early test, and an example of how one bad at-bat (Benoit’s walk, arguably) can throw a closer by committee off its matchups.

Play of the game: Eduardo Escobar is searching for his first Major League home run after 155 plate appearances, and his minor-league track record over more than 600 games doesn’t suggest it’s coming soon. His focus was on trying to get a sacrifice fly to tie the game, so he was as surprised as anyone for him to hit a game-winner.

“It was a fastball right over the middle,” the switch-hitting Escobar told reporters. “It was just my first swing and I got it right down the middle on the first pitch. I thought I did my job because I hit it in the air and hit it far enough but I didn’t even think it was going to go that far and bring the other run in.”

Biggest out: On the Tigers’ side, it was Brayan Villarreal’s strikeout of Aaron Hicks to send the Tigers into the eighth inning holding onto their 2-1 lead. For the Twins, it was arguably Chris Parmelee throwing out Hunter going first to third on Miguel Cabrera’s second RBI single. It kept Kevin Correia from having to face Prince Fielder with two runners on, though Correia’s success against Fielder seemed to hold.

Strategy: Leyland did not go with a right-hander against the switch-hitting Eduardo Escobar, who in his limited big league at-bats has had more success hitting lefties than righties. Octavio Dotel had shown no signs he was unavailable, but did not warm up, nor did Alberto Alburquerque. On the other hand, Leyland stuck with lefty Darin Downs in the sixth against righty Josh Willingham, lefty Justin Morneau and the switch-hitting Doumit, and it worked flawlessly, allowing Leyland to play matchups for the seventh.

What worked for Sanchez: Both Sanchez and Leyland said he looked over video with pitching coach Jeff Jones after his last start and noticed something. Sanchez said it was an adjustment with his legs. It wasn’t always smooth, but it was effectively.

Line of the day: Sanchez pitched five innings of two-hit ball with three walks and five strikeouts, yet used enough pitches getting there that he couldn’t go back out for the sixth, which set the bullpen in motion. His pitch count was a palindrome: 95 pitches, 59 strikes.

Stat of the day: 2 — Tigers regulars still looking for their first hit of the season. Victor Martinez is one, Andy Dirks the other.

Print it: “I didn’t think it was going out. I kept running, and it seemed like it just kept carrying.” — Jackson on Escobar’s double

 

 

 

18 Comments

Coke is not merely bad vs RH hitters, he’s terrible. He allowed a 1.050 OPS vs RH hitters last year. No excuse for leaving him in for that. There’s not necessarily a bullpen problem. There is one thing that JL should not do with the bullpen, but he did it tonight. It’s on him, and it was predictable. The fact that he got Doumit one night earlier means little. Righties kill him, and it’s been getting increasingly worse year after year.

IRS%:
Coke:28% .But lead off inning :378 /.404/.533/.938. First batter:305/.344/.424 .767
Villareal:44%
Both were called with runners on

It’s so early for this Leyland bashing and second guessing. Why does no one ever wants to put any of the onus on the two starting pitchers the last two days who were very inefficient and only got through 5 innings barely. The hitters who are not hitting mediocre pitching. The fielders who are not fielding their positions, costing the pitchers extra pitches. And don’t even get me started on the endless walks….they are exasperating to to mention inefficient and ave been very costly. But no this is all on the manager!??.?

It is what it is, very poor judgement or unless he was playing God, on JL to have Coke face righties. Coke is lucky to be on the team( check his stats over the last three years) let alone try to be the closer. Hopefully us fans will never see Coke pitch to a righty again.

Too many free passes from the bullpen in 2 days. It is hard to blame JL for that (and I am not a JL fan). What frustrates me is constant “say one thing and do another” decisions that are made. A week ago they announce there is not a defined closer. It will be a closer by committee and depend on match ups as the games entered its final innings. One Monday, I agreed with all his moves (except sending Smyly back out for the 7th). The matchups dictated Benoit for the 8th and Coke for the 9th. It worked.
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Yesterday, the way the lineup was turning over it should have been Coke for the 8th (L-R-L-S) and Benoit for 9th (R-L-R-S). If Coke is your closer, just say it. Because yesterday was not based on matchups, it was based on “it worked Monday, lets try it again”.
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No doubt, this will a 2nd guessers delight. And as fans, we have that right, rightly or wrongly. But again, if there are alot less BBs, life becomes easier. Our hitters could take some lessons from the scrappy Twins hitters. They have had a game plan to take alot of pitches, work the count and get into our weak spot (bullpen). I doubt there were very many at bats where they swung at the first or second pitch.
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Of course if the hitters hit better and more runs are scored, most of these problems go away.
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Let’s win the series.
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— Bob

Jackson worked the at bat once and he scored

spot on bob. spot on.

Bob the mind reader! Well written!

Agree Bob. Let’s focus on that last “win the series”.

the story of the day was coke didn’t execute his pitches, and according to the quote above, he owns that. time to turn the page.

was surprised Correia was able to cuff them. has a marginal fastball, but mixes pitches well, works quickly, and was pitching with shadows on the field. they’ll hit him later when conditions are more hitter friendly.

thought Downs looked good…the walk ended up hurting them, but he kept the ball down and off the plate for the most part. if he can continue that, Leyland will give him a lot of work.

Here’s what I don’t understand. Why is Smyly in the bullpen. At some point we’ll need the 6th starter. Why are we messing with the young kid. What are we gonna do when a starter goes down? Tell him he has 4 days to stretch out his arm for 7 innings of work? Ridiculous! That’s how you ruin guys ie. Joba Chamberlain. Give him his role and leave him alone. Send him down and turn Coke into our long man. We still have our beer goggles on thinking Coke’s sexy cause he had a decent post season. He can’t get righties out! So unless he’s your situational 1 batter lefty give him the long role. Have Downs be our end of game Lefty. He can face a LH RH LH without guaranteeing a base hit. I’m also a big AL AL guy. When healthy he’s nasty. I think a Benoit, AL, Downs combo for the 8th and 9th will serve us nicely. Dotel is a 7th inning guy no better. Villareal is a nice late innings compliment piece when guys need rest.

Great read. Do you have a Twitter group?

Wow, this was a really quality post. In theory Id like to write like this too taking time and real effort to make a good article but what can I say I procrastinate a lot and never seem to get something done

Pretty insightful post. Never considered that it was this simple. Extolment to you

Coke stuff is okay but he should be pitching to lefties only.

You keep up to date on this quite regularly I have been following and agree with everything you comment on, I have linked this blog from my site now..Thanks.

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