Game 70: When bullpen attrition met the bullpen’s condition
Here’s the problem Brad Ausmus is going to face every time he goes to his bullpen in the seventh or eighth inning:
- He has three relievers who have earned his trust to bridge the gap between the starting pitchers and closer Joe Nathan: Lefty Ian Krol, righty specialist Al Alburquerque and righty setup man Joba Chamberlain.
- He has three relievers among the American League top 10 in appearances this season: Ian Krol, Al Alburquerque and Joba Chamberlain. All three have appeared in about half of the Tigers’ games so far.
- Krol is in his first full Major League season, and was a starting pitcher in the minor leagues until last year. He already has appeared in more games this year when he has in any year as a pro.
- Chamberlain and Alburquerque both have significant injury histories that include Tommy John surgeries.
So when J.D. Martinez’s three-run home run in the top of the eighth turned a 2-0 pitching duel into a 5-0 Tigers lead, Ausmus saw a chance to spare a reliever. Alburquerque already pitched the seventh, so he could choose between Krol and Chamberlain.
Ausmus opted to use Krol. Once he made that decision, he was essentially committed to sticking with Krol.
“When the inning started, it was a 5-0 lead, so I don’t really want to burn Joba out with a five-run lead,” Ausmus said. “If we start putting Joba in every time we have a five-run lead or less, there won’t be a Joba come August and September. We went with Krol because after the first hitter, it was really lefties and switch-hitters. Even though one of their switch-hitters actually hit lefties better than lefties, sometimes you have to take a chance. But it was just an off night for Krol.”
It was a really bad night for Krol, which by the end meant it was a night of work for Chamberlain.
As Ausmus pointed out, he only had to face one hitter. Still, it was a day that his core three had to pitch.
“The game dictated that we had to,” Ausmus said. “When we have a 5-0 lead with two innings to go, we’ve got to win that game. I don’t want these guys’ appearance totals to get too high, but we’re in a situation where we’ve gotta win that game.”
Whether the wear and tear is already showing on Krol is up for debate. He dealt with shoulder soreness a week ago but pitched through it, but has now given up seven runs on 11 hits over 5 2/3 innings in eight June outings. While he’s maintaining a pretty good clip against lefties (.231 average), right-handed hitters have put 18 hits over 11 1/3 innings against him, including five home runs.
With lefties and switch-hitters alternating in Cleveland’s lineup, he needed to get a right-handed hitter out. He got none. Mike Aviles singled, Asdrubal Cabrera homered, and Carlos Santana homered after that.
Krol’s fastball, which often approaches the mid-90s, sat at 90-92 on Friday.
The Tigers cannot afford to lose relievers at this point. They have another core reliever on their way if Joel Hanrahan progresses, but he’s coming off Tommy John surgery and will have to be watched with his workload. Moreover, losing another reliever would mean Hanrahan simply continues an undermanned bullpen rather than enhances it.
Ausmus is going to face this decision again, probably several times. How he handles it, and the bullpen in general, could determine a lot about this season.