Originally posted on Fox Sports Detroit  |  Last updated 7/19/13
Three intriguing questions and story lines connected to the Detroit Tigers as they resume play after the All-Star break: What needs to be done with the bullpen? If your answer has something to do with dynamite, you're only partially correct. Joaquin Benoit and Drew Smyly provide consistent late-inning prowess, and Luke Putkonen is looking reliable in early relief. But questions abound about every other reliever, and even in regard to Benoits role as the closer for the deposed Jose Valverde. Detroits bullpen is 8-16 with a 4.15 ERA and has blown nine saves while converting 20. No bullpen has won fewer games, and only two have a higher earned-run average. Phil Coke (0-5, 5.83 ERA, 1.50 WHIP and 4.6 walks per nine innings) is being booed loudly when he sprints into games and even more when he falters. The club cant afford to go any longer with him because many of his performances are demoralizing. When I asked Tigers manager Jim Leyland about the critical importance of one more quality reliever, he thought I was leading into a question about trades, but I wasnt. I dont know the answer to that question, Leyland said of the need. I wish I did. Its more up to Phil Coke to get going. But it would be really significant to get one guy in-house to get going. Coke, it was hoped, could bridge the game from the starters to Smyly and Benoit. But thats not happening, and Octavio Dotel (elbow) isnt close to returning. So look for Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski to obtain a quality late-inning reliever. Jon Paul Morosi of FOXSports.com reported this week that the Tigers are interested in acquiring San Francisco Giants star Tim Lincecum, who threw a 148-pitch no-hitter on Saturday; however, Detroit reportedly is interested in him as a reliever -- and with good reason. Lincecum dominated the Tigers in the World Series and was money in the bank in five postseason appearances last year for the Giants. The Freak allowed one run on three hits in 13 innings of relief work, posting a 0.69 ERA and striking out 17 with only two walks. He won the Cy Young Award in 2008 and 2009 but has faltered as a starter the last two seasons. Lincecum is 5-9 with a 4.26 ERA in 2013. Hes making 22 million this season and becomes a free agent after it, making him a complicated acquisition. But the Giants, who are 43-50, might be looking to dump salary, even in regard to one of their most-popular players. Much of Dombrowskis approach on this comes down to whether he and Leyland trust Benoit as the closer. I do, but do they? Benoit has allowed one earned run and three walks since June 7, posting a 0.69 ERA in those 14 games. He has 11.7 strikeouts and 2.8 walks per nine innings, a 1.043 WHIP and is perfect in eight save opportunities. Those are closer numbers. Drew Smyly has a 0.917 WHIP, 9.2 strikeouts and 2.2 walks per nine innings, and a 4-0 record with a 1.91 ERA. Hes golden. But the Tigers need one more reliable late-inning reliever, and Bruce Rondon and Al Alburquerque have run out of time to secure that role with the July 31 trade deadline on the doorstep. Has Jhonny Peralta told the truth or will he be suspended for PED use? Suspensions of major-league players who have been implicated in the Biogenesis clinic distribution of PEDs are expected to be handed out soon. Peraltas statement on the matter: I have never used performance enhancing drugs. Period. Anyone who says otherwise is lying. If that's the truth, theres no problem for Peralta or Detroit. Regardless of how this turns out, appeals would likely push the serving of those suspensions to 2014, when Peralta will be a free agent. So it could very well be a moot point this season. However, if the Tigers' All-Star shortstop is forced to sit for a substantial portion of the remainder of this season, that would force them into a decision: Do they make a trade or go with Danny Worth, who started slow this season for Toledo but has batted .277 since June 1? What will happen at catcher and in left field? Alex Avila was batting .172 when he went on the disabled list last month and briefly showed signs of snapping out of his slump. But he hit .154 on the last home stand and is at .177. Avila is great with the pitching staff but must hit more to get the majority of the starts. Brayan Pena is batting .279 and doing a good job with the pitchers, and will get more and more starts if Avila cant provide offensive consistency. Avila was the 2011 All-Star Game starting catcher, but hasnt hit as well since. Andy Dirks is batting .243 with six homers and 23 RBIs. Thats sub-par production for 276 at-bats. Matt Tuiasosopo, whos made all but four of his starts against left-handed pitchers, is hitting .329 with six homers and 22 RBIs in only 85 at-bats. Hes hitting well over .300 against lefties and righties, and has improved defensively. Look for Tuiasosopo to get more starts against righties and, if he continues to produce, becoming more of a regular in left field.
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