Faltering Rondon, Sanchez cause ugly trickle-down for ’pen
Cleveland — Nobody is trying to make excuses for the collective struggles of the bullpen through 10 games. Least of whom, manager Brad Ausmus.
“The Wilson brothers (Alex and Justin, not technically brothers) and K-Rod (Francisco Rodriguez) have done their job,” Ausmus said before the game Saturday. “We just need more consistent outings from the other guys.
“And it boils down to throwing strikes. We just haven’t been throwing strikes; we haven’t been getting ahead of hitters. You just can’t do that at the major-league level, especially against good hitters.”
Tigers relievers have allowed an untenable 14 of 21 inherited runners to score, including five Friday night as they nearly squandered a six-run lead in the ninth.
The bullpen has allowed an American League-high 29 runs. The 6.96 ERA and 1.73 WHIP rank 13th out of 15.
“We can’t have a six-run lead in the eighth and ninth innings and have to use our set-up man and closer,” Ausmus said Friday night. “We’ve got to pitch better. We can’t keep getting behind guys and walking guys. That can’t happen. That’s not a formula for winning, and if we continue we won’t win.”
No excuses, but there are mitigating circumstances. The depth the Tigers thought they had in the bullpen coming out of spring training was hamstrung by the early struggles of both Bruce Rondon and Anibal Sanchez.
Rondon was expected to be the eighth-inning set-up man, which would lengthen the bullpen roles — Justin Wilson in the seventh, Alex Wilson and Shane Greene in the fifth and sixth, Kyle Ryan in either long relief of situational roles.
Rondon faltered and was sent back to Toledo, which pushed the others up the ladder. And Sanchez’s struggles as the long man has forced the Tigers to dip into their reserves at Toledo — Joe Jimenez, Williams Cuevas and, on Saturday, Warwick Saupold.
The bullpen was used for 21 innings in the seven-game home stand and three more Friday night. It’s a lot.
“The starting pitchers, a lot of them, are basically maxed out at 100 pitches their first couple of starts,” Ausmus said. “Then throw in the fact we have three young pitchers we want to be at least a little cautious with (Daniel Norris, Matthew Boyd and Michael Fulmer) — that combined with relievers trying to get into the rhythm of the season, get used to their useage — I think there is an evolution there.
“Once you get through April, everything is back to normal.”
Think about this: For seven weeks in spring training, relievers came to the park knowing exactly what inning they would pitch every day. They warmed up once for one pre-determined inning.
They pitched back-to-back days just once, at the end of camp.
Compare that to what Greene went through this week. On Monday, he warmed up twice and didn’t get into the game. On Tuesday, he faced three batters. He warmed up again on Wednesday without being used, then he threw 29 pitches in two innings on Thursday.
That’s why he wasn’t available Friday night.
“People wonder why I didn’t use a guy,” Ausmus said. “The fact is, he was up in the bullpen two times and we got him up again. I feel like early in April, it’s best to stay away from him in that situation because we are going to need him in August.”
And a manager should be able to trust the sixth and seventh relievers in the pen with a six-run lead in the eighth and ninth innings.
Enter Saupold, the Australian-born right-hander, got the call at 11:30 p.m. Friday and made the one hour, 40-minute drive to Cleveland Saturday morning.
“I was stoked,” he said.
He made two strong starts for the Mud Hens, the last was Wednesday. He allowed just two runs on 102/3 innings with nine strikeouts.
“I hadn’t been paying too much attention to what was happening (with the Tigers) just because our games were going on down there,” he said. “But the next I think I know, I see a guy leaving. And then the next thing I know, another guy is leaving. Now it’s my turn.
“I just want to come in and do my job, give us a chance to win.”
Blaine Hardy, who began the season with the Tigers while Ryan was on paternity leave, is eligible to be recalled on Monday.
He pitched a scoreless inning with the Tigers with two strikeouts against the White Sox April 6, but, by rule, he had to wait 10 days before being called back up.