With Joel Zumaya out, Fernando Rodney uncertain, and the remainder of the Tigers' pen struggling to work effectively in the late innings, the Tigers are desperate for a reliable reliever. Here are just a handful of the candidates the Tigers could take a look at:
Aquilino Lopez – Right handed Reliever – AAA Toledo
Lopez was already up with the Tigers earlier this season, before being sent down in favor of lefty Tim Byrdak. Lopez struggled some with an ERA just over five in his five appearances, but was actually most effective in his last outing before going back down, pitching three shutout innings against the Minnesota Twins. The Tigers know what they'd be getting with Lopez, a decent middle reliever, but also probably not someone you would rely upon in the late innings to get tough outs. Lopez could be a possibility, but the organization would likely look elsewhere before turning to him.
Preston Larrison – Right handed Reliever – AAA Toledo
Larrison was a highly touted prospect but his star has since faded after multiple surgeries have taken away some of Larrison's velocity and forced him to become more of a control pitcher. Larrison has proven he can be effective without the same velocity, however, he's now in his sixth year with the organization and still has not tasted big league ball. If the Tigers thought he was tough enough to handle the big leagues, he most likely already would have gotten a shot. Larrison's 3.14 ERA in 24 appearances for Toledo is certainly good, but the Tigers unwillingness to give Larrison a look could indicate they simply don't feel he has a big league arm.
Jordan Tata – Right handed Starter – AAA Toledo
Having sat on the disabled list for the first two months of the season, Tata was largely overlooked to start the season; too easily people forget that Tata is still a top ten prospect in the organization, and was able to jump from high-A Lakeland all the way to Detroit last spring. Tata made his first appearance of the season earlier this week, pitching three scoreless innings. While he's been a starter his entire career, there are many that feel his sinker/slider combo would make him a devastating late inning reliever. Once he's gotten his feet wet in Toledo and is confident in his offerings, Tata could become a very viable bullpen candidate for the club.
Eulogio de la Cruz – Right handed Starter – AA Erie
De la Cruz, or Frankie as he is more commonly called, has been battling himself for years, but may have finally turned a corner this season with Erie. De la Cruz debuted with a high 90's fastball, which was so effective that he never felt it necessary to learn an off-speed pitch, as almost no hitters at his level could catch up to it. But as he's moved up the ladder, he's been forced to develop his curveball as a secondary offering, and it's finally reached the point where it could be a usable, bordering on plus, pitch. It was often expected that Frankie would make his way back to the bullpen at some point, and should he continue to be effective, the Tigers might elect to give him a try now.
Andrew Miller – Left handed Starter – AA Erie
Miller is certainly the most interesting of the candidates. While the others all have various attributes or reasons for why they could have success in Detroit, Miller has already proven he can, when he pitched six shutout innings for the club in a spot start. The concern really lies with whether or not the Tigers want to take Miller out of the rotation for an extended period of time and have him work a role that won't be in his future. The long term organization is best served if Miller continues to perfect his craft in the minors as a starting pitcher, and then coming to Detroit when he's 100% ready. But the organization must also examine the short term too, and the bottom line remains that Miller is the most major league ready arm the team has at its disposal.
The Tigers know what they're getting with Lopez, and De La Cruz just likely isn't quite ready for the show. If the Tigers truly thought Larrison was a legit option, he probably would have already gotten a shot instead of journeymen like Lopez and Byrdak. That leaves Tata and Miller. Tata, once back at full strength, could very well be a great late inning option for the club.
Miller meanwhile isn't a long term reliever, but could be effective there now. And while it's not ideal, Miller doesn't need to be forced in the minors to develop – he's already there (as opposed to someone like Jeremy Bonderman, who was forced into big league service before a reliable third pitch was ever developed, and four years later he still has struggled to find one because he never spent the time developing it). It's also worth mentioning that arguably the best starter in the game, Johan Santana, started in the Minnesota bullpen before working his way into the rotation.
In a perfect world, Miller would remain in the minors; but the Tigers don't live in a perfect world, and are struggling to find outs in the late innings. If that continues, Miller is likely the club's best bet.