Jim Leyland hasn’t been shy about making changes to established roles this season. He quietly announced a big one on the radio pre-game show with Dan Dickerson when he said that Todd Jones is out as closer and Fernando Rodney would primarily assume the role.
It had become clear over the last couple weeks that Jim Leyland was losing confidence in Todd Jones. Leyland announced a couple weeks ago that he was going “to watch him” speaking more about his usage and indicating that Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney would receive some opportunities. In Baltimore he let Joel Zumaya pitch a second inning to try and get the save instead of Jones.
On Friday night Aquilino Lopez was warmed up and at the ready if Jones started to unravel – the type of move Leyland would NEVER make in the past. We all remember a certain game in Cleveland last year where Jones didn’t have it, got hammered, and Leyland refused to get anybody up in the pen. Jones blowing the Friday game after coming so close to securing the win was apparently the last straw.
Even with 2 blow-ups, Rodney has been the Tigers most effective reliever since coming off the DL*. Since June 16th Rodney (and not counting today) has thrown 14 innings and has allowed 8 walks, 10 hits, and he’s fanned 12. Over the same period Todd Jones has thrown 14.1 innings and allowed 22 hits with 2 walks, 4 HBP, and only 4 K’s. (And if you were wondering about Zumaya he’s gone 16.1 innings with 16 hits, 15 walks – ouch, and 16 K’s)
*Actually Bobby Seay probably deserves to hold that title. Over the same span he’s allowed just 6 hits and 6 walks in 12.1 innings with 13 strike outs. Why are the Tigers looking for a lefty reliever?
Rodney is much maligned though among Tigers fans. I attribute it to the fact that he wears his hat crooked. And when he blows up he really blows up. Still he is capable of extended periods of dominance – like 2006 for example. Or even last year after he returned from the DL and allowed all of 3 hits and 4 walks in his first 11 games back while fanning 17.
Now there are questions about this move. Primarily what role does Todd Jones play? He can’t be brought in to tough jams. Does he fill the Aquilino Lopez role of keeping a deficit from expanding, or eating an inning or two with a multi-run spread? And second there has to be concerns about Rodney’s health. He looks great at the moment, but he’s missed big chunks of the last 2 years and a 45 pitch outing today probably isn’t the best strategy.
I like seeing Rodney get the opportunity, and I like the willingness of Leyland to make a move. Stubborn is a difficult tag to hang on the skipper this season in that he’s tried a number of things. I think Rodney will probably fare okay, but be ready for a different type of rollercoaster. Jones would take you through highs and lows in any given outing but would typically get the job done in most outings. Rodney will wow you sometimes and kill you other times. It’s a matter of inter-outing rollercoaster versus intra-outing rollercoaster.
UPDATE: The Detroit News has some audio with Todd Jones. He says all the right things, but the guy is crushed. And yes, he’s struggled and the move is the right one to make, and he’s a professional, and he gets paid millions of dollars, and he’s made some questionable comments in his columns. I know for all those reasons people aren’t supposed to feel sympathy, but I can’t help it. I do.