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Ausmus understands fans’ ‘trepidation’ over bullpen

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Kirk Gibson hugs Brad Ausmus after tossing out the first pitch for Friday's game.

Detroit -- So, it's not just the fans who worry about the Tigers bullpen.

"I understand the trepidation of Tigers fans with the bullpen," manager Brad Ausmus said Friday. "Quite frankly, it seeps into my system, as well, sometimes.

"I think they have the ability to do the job."

Tigers fans don't want to hear that, of course.

They want to see it -- because they haven't seen it, consistently, for some time.

This might finally be the year, with the additions of closer Francisco Rodriguez (more on him in a second), and setup men Justin Wilson and Mark Lowe, to go with youngsters Drew VerHagen and potentially Shane Greene once Daniel Norris rejoins the rotation.

That's to say nothing of Alex Wilson and Blaine Hardy, who were among the most consistent relievers in 2015. They are eyeing mid-April returns from injuries.

"It's a great group of guys," said Justin Wilson, who came over in an offseason trade with the Yankees. "We're all in it together."

Saltalamacchia’s start goes swimmingly

Francisco Rodriguez, 34, was the biggest addition to the bullpen, coming over in a trade with the Brewers.

The active saves leader with 387, he's coming off two magnificent seasons with the Brewers, with a WHIP under 1.000 in 2014 and 2015.

That's why a couple iffy outings to start his Tigers tenure, particularly a blown three-run lead in the opener, isn't sending nearly the panic through the Detroit clubhouse that it is through the fan base.

"Quite frankly, I haven't changed my opinion of him just from two outings," Ausmus said. "I still think he's a very intelligent pitcher who's been doing this for a long time and won't get rattled."

Even in the early struggles, Ausmus said, "You could tell he was confident in himself."

Despite the scouting reports that came with the November trade, Tigers fans might've been shocked to see Rodriguez's fastball doesn't touch 90.

He's not the overpowering thrower he was in his early days with the Angels. Today, he relies mostly on his exceptional change-up -- a change-up he might've been too in love with in his first two Tigers outings.

It was a wicked slider, actually, to Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton that got a K and Rodriguez's first save as a Tiger.

"I think you've gotta be careful about it," Ausmus said of relying too much on one pitch -- as the Tigers saw so much with Al Alburquerque and his once-lethal slider. "If you're only using the change-up, I think hitters become aware of that."