Originally written June 24, 2013 on isportsweb.com:
If you were to ask the common Detroit Tigers fan to name 3 active members of the Detroit Tigers bullpen, do you think they could do it? I don’t. They’d probably say Phil Coke, maybe Joaquin Benoit, and if they’re really locked in, perhaps Drew Smyly. Thank goodness for Drew Smyly What a difference a few months can make. The Tigers broke camp with what was supposed to be a veteran staff of relievers with some young arms that they were hoping would play up to the level of competition. The Tigers left Lakeland, Florida with this bunch: Joaquin Benoit Phil Coke Octavio Dotel Al Alburquerque Brayan Villarreal Darin Downs Drew Smyly If you look at it now it’s not all that different as only Dotel and Villarreal aren’t on the roster at the moment. However, the Tigers went through the Jose Valverde saga. Alburquerque has been sent down and called back up already. Currently filling the spots of Dotel and Villarreal are Evan Reed and Luke Putknonen. No source of contention has kept Tigers fans more engaged and enraged than the bullpen issues of 2013. Can this new version of the 7-man pen get the job done? Let’s put it this way: if it wasn’t for Benoit and Smyly the Tigers might just be a sub .500 team. Instead they are 10 games over .500 and in 1st place. Benoit and Smyly have literally carried this bullpen. Benoit, the latest in a growing line of anointed closers, is putting up an All-Star caliber season. He has a 2.01 ERA, 1.02 WHIP and a 37:9 K to walk ratio in 31.1 innings. He has logged 4 saves with presumably many more to come. Smyly has been a sensation. For a guy who probably deserves to be in a starting rotation somewhere, he has taken his relief role and owned it. His 1.75 ERA and 0.99 WHIP are off the charts. Throw in a 46:12 K to walk ratio and the fact that he’s only allowed 1 home run and he is easily one of the Tigers’ most valuable players so far in 2013. He has given up just 1 run in his last 10 appearances covering 17.1 innings of work. As for the rest of the crew, it’s not so simple. Reed has been with the Tigers for over 5 weeks and has pitched in 5 games. I mean, what’s the point? Leyland doesn’t really know what he has here and seems uneasy about finding out. Downs started the season brilliantly but has slumped lately, giving up runs in 7 of his last 9 appearances. He’s good enough to stick around but not solid enough to be trusted in crucial moments. The same goes for Putkonen. He has been really good, but Leyland hesitates to use him in critical spots. His 2.19 ERA suggests that he might be asked to graduate to a true major leaguer, and soon. Alburquerque is back despite his command issues persisting in AAA.  He walked 13 batters in 14.1 innings during his ‘you better go down there and fix it’ stint. The Tigers suggest that he was throwing the ball better of late. The numbers do not back that up. The truth is Detroit couldn’t stomach Valverde for another day so they called on Senor Slider to see if he could recapture his magic of the past 2 years. If he still can’t throw strikes it will be a failed experiment. And then there’s Phil Coke and his 6.14 ERA and 1.32 WHIP. Somehow Leyland still trusts this guy, even running him out against a band of Red Sox right-handed hitters that showed him no mercy early in the Boston series. He has done better against righties this year but clearly not good enough. Thankfully for Jim Leyland, the Tigers have one of the best starting rotations in baseball, which naturally nullifies the need for a deep bullpen. But the time to rely on the pen arise at some point and the Tigers will have to be able to call upon someone to help out. Bruce Rondon Sadly, Jose Valverde will just never go away. He will most likely clear waivers and report to AAA Toledo in yet another attempt to ‘get straightened out’. Imagine the public fallout when they call him back up. Ugly… Oddly enough, the answer to all of this bullpen drama might be the guy who started it in the first place – Bruce Rondon. The big righty’s inability to look comfortable in spring and in a brief call-up early in the year set the Valverde domino in motion. Villarreal and Alburquerque’s utter lack of command only intensified matters. Rondon’s AAA numbers read like this: 1-1 record, 14 saves, 1.57 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and a 38:13 K to walk ratio in 28.2 innings. He has walked 2 hitters in his last 8 appearances. The man literally has nothing left to prove in the minor leagues yet Detroit was so wounded by his spring training performances that he remains in Toledo, for now. A strike-throwing, confidence-exuding Rondon could ignite the Tigers’ bullpen in a way that no other pitcher in the system may have the ability to do. The recent selection of Alburquerque over Rondon is a bit perplexing, especially given their respective minor league game logs. Slap a name other than “Rondon” next to his stat line and he’d already be in Detroit. If the guy isn’t ready now, will he ever be? Let’s get this party started. To receive an email each time a new Tigers article is published, fill out the Email Notification Form [Follow me on Twitter @isportsJoe]
PLAYERS: Bruce Rondon
TEAMS: Detroit Tigers
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

FCC unanimously ends sports blackout rule

Michael Phelps arrested for DUI

Is hiring Mack Brown a real possibility for SMU Mustangs?

NFL: Abdullah should not have been penalized for praying

Belichick: Pats 'didn't play well enough at all' against Chiefs

Astros new manager A.J. Hinch: ‘Goal is to win championships’

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Oakland Raiders fire Dennis Allen after 0-4 start

Did Roger Goodell’s bodyguard assault a photographer?

Kobe Bryant, Deron Williams engage in war of words

Georgia RB Todd Gurley falsely accused of punching student

Russell Westbrook: "I'm the best point guard" in NBA

Texas WR takes shot at Baylor ahead of big game

Ilya Bryzgalov takes photos with fans while on the bench

NFL Awards: Week 4 edition

The best and worst MLB players in September

Tracking demanding career paths of all Top 25 head coaches

NFL Power Rankings: Week 4

Strahan to make cameo as stripper in 'Magic Mike' sequel

Chiefs player penalized for praying after touchdown

Bill Belichick laughs off QB question...literally

Patriots fan fails with American flag face paint

Joe Fauria's new puppy is responsible for his ankle injury

LaRon Landry suspended four games for PED violation

NBA GMs on the hot seat

Tigers News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

Ilya Bryzgalov takes photos with fans while on the bench

NFL Awards: Week 4 edition

Michael Phelps arrested for DUI

NFL admits error on Abdullah penalty

Best, worst MLB players in Sept.

College FB coaches, tough career paths

NFL Power Rankings: Week 4

Raiders fire Dennis Allen after 0-4 start

Chiefs player penalized for praying after TD

Did Roger Goodell’s bodyguard assault a photographer?

Kobe, Deron engage in war of words

Belichick laughs off QB question

Today's Best Stuff
For Bloggers

Join the Yardbarker Network for more promotion, traffic, and money.

Company Info
Help
What is Yardbarker?

Yardbarker is the largest network of sports blogs and pro athlete blogs on the web. This site is the hub of the Yardbarker Network, where our editors and algorithms curate the best sports content from our network and beyond.