Inside Pitch: Bullpen Juggling for Tigers

With Jose Valverde unavailable, the Tigers are juggling a number of relievers in the bullpen.


Jose Valverde is on the sidelines dealing with a sore right elbow. He's pitched one time since Sept. 6 and that one time wasn't very hot.

Think that was a factor in manager Jim Leyland letting Justin Verlander go nine innings Saturday? It wasn't the only reason, but you can bet it entered the decision.

Leyland has done a nice job working around save situations most of the time and he's anointed Phil Coke as the temporary closer while Valverde heals. Coke has picked up a couple of saves in the role.

But Sunday was a different story. Detroit scored six in the seventh to take a 7-3 lead into the ninth and Leyland summoned Coke to close it out.

Chicago got a leadoff double and Coke got the next batter out before things unraveled. He lost Manny Ramirez, throwing a curveball out of the strike zone at the end of a nine-pitch battle. Coke then lost the strike zone and almost lost the game.

Leyland yanked him with the bases loaded and the score 7-5 in favor of Robbie Weinhardt, a major league rookie but with some minor league experience at closing games.

He couldn't do it either, giving up a run on a force out and throwing a score-tying wild pitch before a good play by Jhonny Peralta at short bailed him out. Weinhardt was like a pedestrian crossing a freeway during rush hour in the 10th, dodging cars while stranding two runners.

The Tigers scored two runs in the 11th and Leyland called on Eddie Bonine, a seasoned journeyman but not an experienced closer. Bonine couldn't throw anything but his fastball for a strike and his fastball is not his 'out' pitch. He gave up a single and a walk before fooling Paul Konerko with a 3-2 fastball for strike three.

Southpaw Daniel Schlereth was Leyland's next choice to close the game, a rookie with no major league saves to his credit.

Schlereth, Detroit's seventh pitcher of the night, had to survive a forceout that probably should have been a game-ending double play. He walked Carlos Quentin on a 3-2 pitch to load the bases and then had to face Manny Ramirez.

Schlereth fed Ramirez a pair of curveballs with the count 1-2 and he got the slugger to look at the last one for strike three to earn his first save.

It may look easy on the replays or in print, but if it was so simple, why was only one pitcher out of four able to nail down the win?

TIGERS 9, WHITE SOX 7 (11 innings): 3B Brandon Inge raced all the way to third on a strikeout with two outs in the 11th, setting up a two-run inning that earned Detroit a sweep of its weekend series in Chicago. Inge fanned on a wild breaking ball in the dirt and made it to third when C A.J. Pierzynski's throw sailed past first. C Gerald Laird lined a single to left and CF Austin Jackson followed with an RBI double. LHP Daniel Schlereth earned his first major league save, bailing out RHP Eddie Bonine in the bottom of the 11th. RHP Robbie Weinhardt got the win, although he was on the mound for the last two runs when Chicago scored four times in the ninth to force extra innings. Detroit scored six in the seventh to overcome a 3-1 deficit. RF Casper Wells hit a two-run home run to start the scoring, Laird and Jackson had RBI singles and 2B Will Rhymes pinch-hit a two-run double. 2B Scott Sizemore had hit a home run in the fourth after the first 10 Detroit batters had been retired in order.


--RF Casper Wells jump-started Detroit's sluggish offense with a two-run home run at the start of a six-run seventh. Wells now has three home runs in limited playing time, most of it in September. Wells followed a one-out walk by lining a first-pitch fastball over the left-field fence just inside the foul pole. Wells has been limited to facing mostly left-handed hitters and has prospered in that role this month.

--2B Scott Sizemore, who pinch-hit a game-winning three-run home run Saturday, hit a home run after Detroit's first 10 batters had been retired. Sizemore had a good week and was rewarded by manager Jim Leyland with the pronouncement after Saturday's game-winner that he probably would be starting against lefties the rest of the season. Sizemore's Saturday blast made him the first Detroit rookie with a game-winning, pinch-hit home run since OF Tim Corcoran's solo shot beat Minnesota Aug. 14, 1977 at Tiger Stadium.

--3B Brandon Inge didn't have a hit but he had a big impact on Detroit completing its weekend sweep of Chicago. Inge raced all the way to third with two out in the 11th when he struck out on a wild pitch and C A.J. Pierzynski threw the ball wildly to first. He scored the tiebreaking run on C Gerald Laird's single. He also made two excellent defensive plays to keep the White Sox from scoring at critical points in the game.

--CF Austin Jackson started the game hitting .300 and ended it with a .300 average. In between he had two hits -- an RBI single in the seventh and an RBI double in the 11th -- both key hits in the Tigers extending the White Sox's losing streak to six straight.

--RHP Robbie Weinhardt got his first serious audition as a major league closer and it could have gone better. Weinhardt came in with a 7-5 lead but the bases loaded and one out in the ninth. He got a forceout at second that cut the lead to 7-6 but then lost his control after hitting CF Alex Rios with an 0-2 pitch. A wild pitch tied the score but after a walk, he got a groundout to send the game into extra innings. Weinhardt saw the first batter in the 10th reach base on an error but he stranded two runners in the inning to end his stint. He became the winning pitcher when Detroit scored twice in the 11th.

--C Gerald Laird hasn't had much of an offensive season but both of his hits were key to Detroit completing its weekend sweep of Chicago. Laird had a solid RBI double to drive in the third run of Detroit's six-run seventh. His single to left in the 11th drove in the tiebreaking run. Laird has struggled to get his batting average above .200 all season and he's just recently returned to action from a sore back.

--RHP Jeremy Bonderman made good pitches when he had to -- and he had to make a lot of them. Bonderman walked five and allowed seven hits while throwing a career-high 121 pitches. Bonderman threw a first-pitch ball to only one batter in the first but allowed two unearned runs. After that, first-pitch strikes were the exception, not the rule for Bonderman, who stranded runners in each inning he worked. He faced five or more batters in each of the first four innings he worked and was relieved in the fifth after giving up a single and a walk with two out.

--2B Carlos Guillen likely will not be ready to open next season after undergoing unexpected microfracture surgery on his slow-to-heal left knee. Tigers head athletic trainer Kevin Rand said "more extensive damage than originally thought" was discovered while undergoing surgery on his left knee Friday in New York. Rand said a lesion was discovered on the bone, which also had deep bone bruises from being taken out turning a game-ending double play Aug. 16. Guillen will have to stay off the leg for 6-8 weeks and he can begin physical activities in four months. "In four months, he will get into more extensive activity," Rand said. "And then baseball activity. Usually, in or around six months, you are ready to play. That puts into question being ready for the start of the season."

--LHP Phil Coke didn't come into a save situation -- but he left one for his successor. Coke began the ninth inning with a 7-3 lead but gave up three hits and two walks while getting just one out before being relieved. Coke lost the strike zone after walking pinch-hitter Manny Ramirez on a 3-2 curve that was the ninth pitch of the at-bat. He alternated walks and singles over the next four batters as his pitches were mainly too high. Coke will serve as Detroit's closer while RHP Jose Valverde is on the shelf. "He's off until he tells me he's able to pitch, and he's not able to pitch right now," Jim Leyland said. "I'm going to use Coke as the closer, hopefully temporarily. I don't know how long that will last." Valverde's right elbow continues to be bothered by tendinitis. He has pitched one game since Sept. 6. "It's sore and not 100 percent," Valverde said. "I played catch (Friday) and it wasn't right."

--Manager Jim Leyland became the 18th person to manage 3,000 games Sunday when Detroit completed its season series at Chicago against the White Sox. "No, we're not talking about that. I'm not even talking about silly stuff." His wins and losses entering Sunday totaled 2,997 but his 1989 Pittsburgh team had two ties that count as games managed. "I like the competition," Leyland said earlier in the week while discussing the future. "I like the challenge. I don't feel 65 years old. I might look it, but I don't feel it. I don't think anyone's saying we have some feeble old man as the manager. They know I have some spunk." "When you think of all the managers who've ever managed, it's truly an elite group," Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski said. Leyland should end the season 16th in games managed, passing Dick Williams and Tommy Lasorda, and he will manage more games than the late Ralph Houk by the end of next year.

BY THE NUMBERS: 1,140 -- Games played by 1B Miguel Cabrera without striking out four times in one contest. Cabrera struck out four times Aug. 8 during his rookie season (2003), but didn't have another four-whiff game until Sept. 17.

QUOTE TO NOTE:,/b> "It takes him two hours to watch '60 Minutes.'" -- Manager Jim Leyland, on the slow pace of RHP Armando Galarraga, especially deliberate with men on base.

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