September 19, 2013 at 12:44 pm

Tony Paul

Talking Tigers: Whether Phil Coke left off Tigers' postseason roster comes down to lefties

Fans' angst with Phil Coke, left, reached a fevered pitch Wednesday night, when, in the span of seven batters, he allowed two doubles, a single and two intentional walks as a game within the Tigers' grasp turned into an 8-0 loss to the Mariners. (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)

-- Phil Coke has been one tough cat to figure out.

Is he a starter? Or is he a reliever? If he’s a reliever, is he a closer or middle-inning guy? If he’s a middle-inning guy, should he be just a specialist or be allowed to face both righties and lefties?

Fans’ angst with Coke reached a fevered pitch Wednesday night, when, in the span of seven batters, he allowed two doubles, a single and two intentional walks as a game within the Tigers’ grasp turned into an 8-0 loss to the Mariners.

Coke’s ERA shot up to 5.40. His WHIP ballooned to 1.670. And the Tigers announced Tuesday they’re shutting him down because of tenderness in his elbow.

And this was a guy who started the season as one of Leyland’s closer options. Yowza.

What’s interesting is in many respects, despite a summer banishment to Triple A Toledo, this has been a better regular season, statistically, for Coke than 2012. That year ended him with as a playoff hero — saving three games in the first two rounds, after the epic Jose Valverde meltdown.

(FYI, he also had a horrific stretch to close out the 2012 regular season, too, with a 10.80 ERA over his final six outings, from Sept. 18-30.)

Coke’s biggest issue last season was his inability to get right-handed hitters out. They flat-out slaughtered him, to the tune of a .396 batting average and big-time power. He has improved on that. Even after Franklin Gutierrez doubled off him Wednesday night, Coke’s opponents’ batting average by right-handers was .271.

But getting right-handers out isn’t Coke’s job. It’s getting lefties out.

And that, actually, is where Coke has failed — and why he’s in serious jeopardy of being left off the Tigers’ playoff roster. For his career, lefties have hit just .242 off him — but this year, after they went 2-for-4 Wednesday night, that number is up to an awfully disturbing .308, with extra-base pop.

Don’t automatically hand his playoff spot to rookie lefty Jose Alvarez, though. Alvarez has given up three homers to lefties in limited action this year, two more than Coke.

It’s so bad, the Tigers might have no choice but to take the highly unusual step of heading to the playoffs with a sole left-hander, Smyly, and a stream of righties — Benoit, Porcello, who’ll be the odd man out in the rotation and could be a huge boost to the bullpen; Bruce Rondon; Jose Veras; Al Alburquerque; Luke Putkonen; and Jeremy Bonderman.

Yes, one of these three men will be on the playoff roster: Coke, Alverez or Bonderman.

Down on Dirks?

The Mariners started right-hander Brandon Maurer Tuesday night. And the Mariners started Hisashi Iwakuma, another right-hander, Wednesday night.

And, yet, neither time was Andy Dirks — the Tigers’ starting left fielder who happens to bat left-handed — in the starting lineup.

Don Kelly started Tuesday, and Matt Tuiasosopo was in there Wednesday.

What gives? Are the Tigers, all of a sudden, down on Dirks?

I get he’s had a down season. He’s at .257/.322/.364, down from a breakout 2012 in which he posted a .322/.370/.487 stat line. But he did go 5-for-5 in a ballgame less than two weeks ago and is the Tigers’ only legitimate option to start against right-handed pitchers in the postseason.

Or is he?

Maybe I’m reading a bit too much into this, but the Tigers’ might just have more in mind for Jhonny Peralta than the occasional start in left field against left-handed pitching when he returns from his 50-game PED penance.

Should he convince Tigers brass in instructional league in Lakeland, Fla., over the next week that he can play left field capably — and I have no doubt that he can; it’s the easiest position on the diamond — he might just become the starter there.

Peralta, of course, also has to shake off the rust with the bat.

Even if he isn’t completely back to his All-Star form, he should make the postseason roster, as a left-field platoon option, at least. The other options are Tuiasosopo or Nick Castellanos. Mr. Not Ever, and Not Yet. He also could be a nice late-game, pinch-hit option off the bench for a team that is lacking, severely, there.

But if during that final weekend series in Miami he looks anything close to the hitter that earlier this season posted a .286/.343/.418 slash line against right-handed pitching, Peralta might be called on to do more.

And Dirks might be asked to do less.

Dirks, by the way, did get an at-bat against a right-handed pitcher Tuesday. In the eighth inning with the bases loaded, he pinch-hit for Jose Iglesias — and struck out.

That’s one at-bat. You can’t read too much into that.

But two days on the bench against right-handed pitchers? Now, that’s telling.

Parrish returns

It was pretty obvious. The moment the Tigers announced in late August that Phil Nevin wouldn’t return as the manager at Triple A Toledo, I assumed it was because Larry Parrish was getting his old job back.

Well, on Wednesday, the Mud Hens made official a move that is believed to have been in the works for a while.

It’ll be the fourth stint as Toledo manager for Parrish, 59, who also, briefly in the late 1990s, was manager of the Tigers.

Parrish last left Toledo after the 2010 season to be the Braves hitting coach, but that gig lasted just one season. He sat out 2012, but came back to the Tigers’ organization in 2013, as manager of the Single A West Michigan Whitecaps.

It’s believed the next Whitecaps manager will be an in-house hire, perhaps a younger man, like Andrew Graham, 31, now the manager at Single A Connecticut, or Mike Rabelo, 33, the hitting coach at Connecticut who also has coached at Single A Lakeland.

Both Graham and Rabelo spent time at West Michigan as players.

One man it won’t be is Mike Henneman, the former Tigers closer who’s fresh off his first season of professional coaching. He was West Michigan’s pitching coach, and he said he will return to Comstock Park in 2014.

“I want no part of managing. I’m happy screwing up pitchers,” Henneman, 51, joked in a text message to The Detroit News.

Henneman sang Parrish’s praises, crediting the veteran manager with helping him understand what the goals were at that level.

As a player, Henneman never saw Single A.

“I think we really learned from each other,” Henneman said of Parrish. “We hit it off in spring and it carried through the whole year. He’s a good one.”

Postseason radio

The new sports-talk radio station in town, Detroit Sports 105.1, won’t be any serious competition to 97.1 The Ticket unless it gets the rights to a pro sports team or two.

Currently, 97.1 is the flagship station for the Big Four — the Lions, Tigers, Red Wings and Pistons.

But, thanks to its affiliation with ESPN, 105.1 will get to air every Tigers game this postseason. And the folks at 105.1 are letting the listeners know it every chance they get, from the main display at detroitsports1051.com reading “HEAR TIGERS PLAYOFF BASEBALL ON DETROIT SPORTS 105.1,” to new midday host Matt Dery criticizing the work of Tigers’ analyst Jim Price — something Dery wouldn’t dare do when he was working down the dial a little over two months ago.

Listeners will have a choice: stick with Dan Dickerson and Price at 97.1, or tune into a national duo on 105.1. I asked ESPN Radio folks this week if they knew who would draw the Tigers assignment, and they said that might not be known until a few days before their first-round series gets under way.

It won’t matter.

While it’s smart for 105.1 to sell its Tigers games to the audience, Tigers fans away from the TV will overwhelmingly stick with Dickerson and Price.

Few call big moments as well or with more sincere emotion than Dickerson, and most Tigers fans won’t risk missing out on the next Magglio Moment.

tpaul@detroitnews.com
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