August 21, 2013 at 12:38 pm

Terry Foster

Demotion stings Phil Coke, but he'll return and help Tigers

Detroit – There are not many Phil Coke supporters out there.

But even Coke does not know if he can be trusted in a big spot.

He can’t be.

That’s why Coke was sent to Toledo to work on his mechanics. The Tigers will still need him in the playoffs. They need a situational lefty to get big outs in big spots. Drew Smyly could be that guy, but Coke has already done it and he did it well last season in the postseason.

Coke was a major reason why the Tigers advanced to the World Series. Short-sighted fans applaud his departure now, but many undoubtedly are the same ones that wanted him to be the closer for the Tigers this season.

We witnessed more of the decline of Coke when he served up a one-pitch cheeseburger to Justin Morneau in the Tigers’ 6-3 loss to the Twins Tuesday night at Comerica Park. Now he heads to Toledo with an 0-5 record, 5.00 ERA and WHIP of 1.50. That’s just too many 5’s, and they are numbers of a man that does not belong in Major League Baseball right now.

Coke especially does not belong on a team like the Tigers, who are on the World Series or Bust express train. No one can stand in the way of that goal. But Phil Coke has helped this team in the past and it would be unwise to completely close the door on him now.

“I’m not happy,” Coke said Tuesday night after getting news of his demotion. “They’re doing what’s best for the team, especially in a race tighter than expected. They’re trying to eliminate as many mistakes as possible.”

I actually felt sorry for the guy. He comes to the ballpark early. He works all afternoon for his one moment and it last all of five seconds. He not only was sent to the showers after giving up the double and intentional walk, but many Tiger fans headed for the turnstiles.

“I made the right pitch in the right lane,” Coke said of Morneau’s shot. “I just missed the elevation. I gave him a chance to get decent wood on it rather than foul it off or swing and miss.”

This is not a moment of celebration because Coke has helped the Tigers. And he can do it again. There is hope because Bruce Rondon went to Toledo and found some magic. Maybe the same can happen for Coke.

“I’m not encouraged by that because I am currently too annoyed that I am being sent down,” Coke said. “This is far from what I thought I would experience, being sent down, because I have not been able to do my job the way I expected.”

Teammates did a neat thing after he walked into the dugout. They embraced him and patted him on the back. They know it was a down moment for him.

Even the boo birds laid off him during his time of angst.

“It’s like a family, and when family is going through something I’m going to pat him on the back and tell him to hang in there,” right fielder Torii Hunter said. “You’ve got to lift guys up so they can be ready next time. Our job is to keep guys positive and upbeat.”

The words and gestures were soothing to Coke, but they didn’t erase the pain of thinking about making that daily drive down I-75 to his temporary home in Toledo.

“It means something when your guys, your brothers, your family comes up to you and says, ‘Get ’em next time,’” Coke said. “That is what this game is all about. It is getting them tomorrow. I am going to have the chance to do that.”


Phil Coke walks off the field after being removed from Tuesday night's game. / Robin Buckson / Detroit News
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