Detroit — A half-dozen questions into Brad Ausmus’ post-game press briefing, well after Danny Worth and his knuckleball wizardry had been discussed, the Tigers manager got to Thursday’s big news.
Corey Knebel will arrive today at Comerica Park. A rookie right-handed reliever, who a year ago was closing games for the University of Texas, has been summoned to Detroit in hopes he can help medicate one of the team’s two serious ills.
The Tigers bullpen was so ravaged by this week’s sudden pitching blowouts that Worth, an infielder, worked the ninth inning of a vile baseball game the Tigers lost, 9-2, with a sellout crowd (40,768) at Comerica Park getting most of its amusement from Worth’s cameo.
Worth might want to think seriously about a pitch that isn’t a novelty only. He struck out two Rangers batters in his single inning of entertaining artistry, which is two more whiffs than some Tigers pitchers have been recording during a week that could probably be considered bizarre more than disturbing.
An ugly week
Ausmus was right afterward to put a four-game losing streak into perspective, to remind everyone that “regardless of the team, you’re gonna go through a stretch like this.” Correct, Mr. Manager. It’s a 162-game season spanning six months. Ugly weeks happen.
The skipper, however, also knows two issues have been sticking like cockleburs to this team since it broke camp in Florida and flew north for Opening Day.
The bullpen has been in some degree of stress for much of the past three months. So, too, has shortstop been a trap door, mostly because Andrew Romine fields but doesn’t hit and Worth, the budding knuckleball magician, is neither a big hitter nor a great shortstop.
Knebel’s arrival today likely will be the first in a series of repairs that might or might not be supplied by the Tigers’ farm chain.
As for Knebel, he is no surprise. His promotion to Detroit was a matter of time. And that time began to shorten as he gunned down batters at Double A Erie and then Triple A Toledo with a fastball that hits 98 mph and a curveball that is, as they say, a “plus-plus pitch.”
He has a chance to help, beginning Friday night. The Tigers are obliged to be more consistent in a bullpen that, for all its steady streaks, has lacked a couple of arms essential to any potential division winner that also wants to play late in October.
They need Phil Coke to calm down and become a proper left-handed complement to their impressive new man, Ian Krol. They need just as much a right-hander who can be depended upon to pitch well in at least six consecutive appearances. It’s a brand of consistency they haven’t often been able to claim with a relief corps that has been good but not good enough.
That’s the brand of arm Knebel possesses. He is only 22, but Knebel is 6-foot-4, 205 pounds, and a classic Tigers power-thrower. He should survive this weekend’s crowds and tumult because of the crowds and NCAA tournament electricity he knew during his days at Texas.
The drama at shortstop could also be reduced if another of those Toledo prospects, Eugenio Suarez, shows at Triple A that he can play with the same two-way talent he had been displaying at Erie.
Waiting in wings
Suarez, who also is 22, batted .284, with a heavy .850 OPS, before he was moved this week to Toledo. He is a right-handed hitter who in the same vein as Knebel has been for some time now a top prospect projected to play in the big leagues, and soon.
The Tigers likely will follow the Knebel timeline. If Suarez shows at Toledo the same luster he flashed at Erie, the Tigers will want him in Detroit sometime during June. They will decide if he can handle a position that has been in flux since spring camp when Jose Iglesias and his stress-fractured legs put the infield’s cornerstone in peril.
If he isn’t yet ready for prime time, you can figure the Tigers’ next step. Dave Dombrowski, the front-office chief who annually puts together some brand of season-soothing trade, will deal for a shortstop who can protect against Iglesias’ possible season-long hiatus and against the inadequacy the Tigers have known with Romine-Worth.
Just who would become part of that July deal is hardly known today. But the Phillies are going nowhere, and one Jimmy Rollins, who to date has not been interested in a trade he can veto, might just change his mind when a playoff team and a playoff check could be in his future.