Henning: Bullpen blunders will hasten Jimenez's arrival
Detroit — Notes, thoughts and items after the Tigers risked insurrection with an eighth-inning bullpen meltdown on Opening Day before pulling one out, 6-5, over the we-can-blow-it-too Red Sox at Comerica Park.
• How soon will Joe Jimenez arrive to help bail out an annually troubled back end relief corps for the Tigers?
A thought here was Jimenez would finish his apprenticeship at Triple-A Toledo sometime in May and be rushed, perhaps by medevac, to Comerica Park or to another big-league stop on the Tigers’ schedule.
That timetable has been expedited. Emergencies, as we know, tend to alter grand plans.
Taking a stab at a target date for Jimenez’s Tigers debut, we’ll go with April 28 against the White Sox at Comerica. Detroit’s baseball team will then be four games into a 10-game homestand. Something deep and unrelenting about this pitching staff — Friday’s game, for example, not to mention evidence from the past five years — says Jimenez, a 22-year-old right-handed reliever with potential shutdown skills, will be needed even if he is a few credits shy of his Mud Hens diploma.
Three games into a new season the Tigers already are burning up relievers. To a heavy — an apt word for Bruce Rondon — extent that’s largely because Rondon turned into a human kerosene can during Thursday’s game and nearly incited a Tigers Nation riot as he self-immolated to the tune of three runs, two hits, and a walk in a horrific eighth inning (Tigers flashback: eighth inning of Game 2 in the 2013 ALCS at Boston, if you haven’t completely suppressed a past nightmare).
The Tigers have had just about enough of this stuff. And that doesn’t begin to match their fans’ ire. Take the greatest collective disgust a baseball fan base during the past 100 years has exhibited toward any facet of a big-league team’s roster, calculate some exponential math, and you’re at least moving into the same realm as Tigers Nation and its fury over relievers who can’t put away innings.
“I heard a few people yelling,” said Tigers manager Brad Ausmus, reflecting on his eighth-inning hike to the mount to yank Rondon as the Tigers were about to turn a game they had led, 4-0, into a 5-4 Red Sox lead. “I could tell they weren’t happy.”
Well, no. They weren’t. They haven’t been for years. Not during late innings. Not when the names Jose Valverde, Jose Veras, Joe Nathan, etc., are mentioned and trauma associated with blown games and — in this view — blown championships (2013) are rooted in some god-awful bullpen explosions.
No player in the Tigers system will be monitored more closely during the coming days and weeks than Jimenez. He will be in town before long. It is inevitable. His talent and a team’s chronic ills ensure it.
• How does Ausmus deal with the late innings Saturday after using five pitchers Friday, including Francisco Rodriguez for 1 1/3 innings?
You can’t escape it — how the Tigers’ roulette wheel of a relief corps creates issues that affect a particular game and in turn spurs consequences that can extend into the next day or days.
Shane Greene was spared from duty Friday so he presumably can work an inning Saturday against the Red Sox, which you would project will be essential when Jordan Zimmermann probably isn’t everyone’s pick to go nine innings.
The guy who looms as a potential escape chute for Ausmus is Kyle Ryan. He returns Saturday from paternity leave and is about as trustworthy as anyone with a Tigers bullpen membership card. He also can pitch multiple innings, which might make him Saturday’s most essential Tigers employee.
It would be assumed here that Ryan, a left-hander, will be working overtime in the Tigers-Red Sox rematch.
This would all be borderline comical if it weren’t so predictable.
Jim Bowden, the one-time Reds and Nationals general manager who writes for ESPN.com, asked each of the 30 big-league GMs what their biggest concern was as they entered the 2017 season.
Tigers GM Al Avila’s response: “The bullpen in general.”
Not that Avila in his 20 months on the job hasn’t tried to fix it. But your best remedy for relief woes tends to come from homegrown answers. And the simple reality is the Tigers haven’t developed enough help internally to help keep innings clean and leads intact.
• Making the best use of Mikie Mahtook
You can’t use an outfielder in platoon-only situations. Especially if he bats right-handed and left-handed pitchers aren’t in abundance.
But notice what Mahtook did Friday when he got a two-out breaking ball from Robby Scott, the Red Sox’s lefty reliever, and lashed it to left field for a double that knotted the game at 5 just ahead of the Tigers scoring the winning run.
Mahtook was brought aboard primarily as a platoon option in center field. He was switched to right after J.D. Martinez got hurt and JaCoby Jones proved to be Ausmus’ better option in center.
Mahtook didn’t impress anyone with his bat during spring camp. But he saw few lefties. Friday he finally got a happy matchup and the Tigers got a huge, game-saving hit.