Ausmus raises three-lefty bullpen idea
At some point Wednesday afternoon, as Kyle Ryan was providing the Tigers one of their few pitching bright spots in a 9-2 loss to the Nationals, manager Brad Ausmus and pitching coach Jeff Jones raised an idea.
“Jonesy and I, during the game while [Ryan] was pitching, were talking about the idea of maybe having three left-handed pitchers as being a possibility,” Ausmus said. “So yeah, we like what we’ve seen from him and he’s pitched well.”
That was a surprise, and one that the math doesn’t seem to support. But it seems to suggest they’re still considering the idea that Bruce Rondon, who is scheduled to make his first game appearance in nearly a full year Thursday, might not be ready for Opening Day.
Ryan’s performance gives him four scoreless innings on two hits this spring with two walks and a strikeout. In a spring where the Tigers bullpen has had a rough afternoon or two, Ryan’s relative consistency is starting to stand out.
Three of Detroit’s seven pitchers Wednesday posted a scoreless inning. Two of them were lefties in Ryan and Tom Gorzelanny. In the case of Gorzelanny, his spot in the bullpen is already pretty well secure, having signed a guaranteed one-year contract.
Add in Joe Nathan, Joakim Soria, Al Alburquerque, Joba Chamberlain and Bruce Rondon — if Rondon is healthy — and six of the seven bullpen spots are claimed.
“Yeah, I’m already counting those guys as kind of in,” Ausmus said.
So why is the three-lefty idea being discussed?
“It does give us a little more length in the bullpen, because Ryan can go multiple innings and Gorzelanny can go multiple innings,” Ausmus said. “[Blaine] Hardy could go multiple innings. [Ian] Krol to me is more of a four-out guy, but he probably could go two. And if it was a righty, he’d probably be more of a one-inning guy if you look at the righties who are kind of in play for a bullpen spot. So it lengthens your bullpen a little bit.”
The reliever potentially in play could be Rondon, probably for health reasons. His return Thursday gives him as long as three and a half weeks to prepare himself before camp breaks.
“Theoretically, it’s enough time if everything goes well,” Ausmus said. “We just have to wait and see.”
It also assumes no setbacks. And after the setbacks Ausmus saw players endure last season, he seems to be preparing himself for that possibility this year.
Beyond that, there’s the abundance of cautiousness Ausmus seems willing to exercise with a young reliever capable of shutting down a big-time hitter in a big situation. Detroit hasn’t had that the last two postseasons. The Tigers’ bullpen struggles in both years reflects a desperate need for that type of reliever.
“I mean, the same thing we’ve said about Miggy and Victor applies to Rondon,” Ausmus said. “The important thing isn’t having them ready for Opening Day. The important thing is having them for the bulk of the season, or as much of the season as you possibly can.”