As the injuries mount in the Tigers bullpen, the best the Tigers can hope for is to get by. Joel Zumaya still has another 8 weeks or so on the shelf, and while Fernando Rodney’s injury isn’t expected to be serious the Tigers won’t have him for a couple weeks. Now Jason Grilli probably won’t even be able to help for a few days at least. The way I figure there are 3 ways they can survive until they start to get some key arms back.
Pitch deeper into games
Of course the fewer innings you need your bullpen for, the less you’ll need to rely on the shaky arms. But part of the problem for the Tigers this year, at least compared to last year, is that they’ve already had to rely more on relief.
Through the first 46 games of this year the Tigers starters made it through the 7th inning only 14 times. Last year they achieved the feat 21 times over the same period. Last year over the first 46 games the starters pitched 71% of the innings and that is down to 66% this year. it works out to an average of 1 to 2 outs per game. It isn’t huge, but if it means the difference between handing the ball over with a none on none out situation in the 8th versus coming into a jam in the 7th the difference is significant.
So I guess the good news is that there is room for improvement in this regard.
Score more runs
I don’t think it’s really feasible to expect the offense to kick it up any more. Sure there is always a mix of players who are up (Granderson, Guillen, Ordonez) and those that are down (Inge, Monroe), but on the whole the offense is cranking.
Things will only get tougher if Placido Polanco has to miss extended time. I often argued that the impact Polanco’s absence was overstated last year. A singles hitter simply can’t carry an offense that is collectively slumping no matter how good his RISP numbers are. But sandwiched between an extra base machine (Granderson) and other big boppers like Sheffield and Ordonez, he’s a key cog.
It seems counter-intuitive, but I think any absence by Polanco will be felt more by the offense that is humming than by last year’s August version that was drowning.
And regardless of what happens, they’ll be scrambling to find roster arms. One of the issues though is that they are in a roster crunch. The Tigers don’t have any free space on the 40 man roster. So to add help to the big league roster, like a Troy Percival, somebody is going to have to be let go.
The team does have a couple of options with players on the 40 if Grilli needs to be DL’d. Aquilino Lopez is still on the roster, and Yorman Bazardo could also be available. Neither option is terribly compelling, but they are likely to get the first call. It’s not about intimidation at this point, it’s about getting through.
I know the sexier name to mention is Andrew Miller. He certainly stands to be the most effective. But I think the Tigers would like to avoid putting him in the pen if at all possible. We heard much hand wringing (some of it from me) about Justin Verlander’s large jump in innings from 2005 to 2006. Beyond having Miller refine things right now, he’s also building up his innings for a move to the rotation as soon as next year. A month in the Tigers pen won’t help that at all. Plus there are the issues with the extra service time and accelerating his free agency clock.
That’s not to say that Miller won’t get the call, but I think it would be one of the last options they explore. Although at this rate the options are dwindling. And if it means a)staying in the race and b)not having to give up anyone to do it (averting a trade) it does start to look more attractive and necessary.
The injuries are forcing a reconfiguration of the current pen, and not necessarily in ways the Tigers want. I certainly understand the sentiment that letting Jose Mesa go would help in a number of aspects, and I don’t even disagree. But realistically speaking it just isn’t going to happen given the injuries.
The 60 day DL is a popular way to get a spot open. But the Tigers have already 60 day’d everyone they can, plus Kenny Rogers will need to be reinstated at some point (although that will help with the deficit in the pen too and hopefully Rodney would be back by then). Jordan Tata has yet to pitch this year, but he was never put on the MLB DL. I think he can be DL’d, but I believe it could only be retroactive 10 days which wouldn’t help anybody.
In terms of the candidates most likely to be removed from the 40 man roster, I think the leading candidate would be Kyle Sleeth. Sleeth is 25 now and has yet to show anything since his surgery save for some good throwing sessions in spring training. He could have made for a nice surprise this year, but it isn’t playing out that way to date. With an ERA over 10 and a batting average against of 407, cutting ties with Sleeth wouldn’t be the end of the world.