Tigers bullpen turns into bright spot in season of woe

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News
Tigers relief pitcher Shane Greene delivers a pitch to Colorado Rockies' Nolan Arenado in the ninth inning Monday.

Denver — During this baseball season in Detroit when not everything has made sense, it of course figures the Tigers would be on the cusp of something truly remarkable.

They may have found two inning-killing bullpen closers.

One of them, unfortunately for the Tigers, is no longer under their employ. Justin Wilson last month was traded to the Cubs.

But just as fans cringed at thoughts of revisiting ninth-inning nightmares past, here has come Shane Greene, with his Pentagon-grade arsenal that has, on most occasions, been furious.

Greene got a 1-2-3 save in Monday night’s victory against the Rockies at Coors Field.

He struck out the final two batters, each on third-strike cutters. The cutter has been a lovely out-pitch for a right-handed reliever whose fastball can run 96-97.

“He’s always had the makeup,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said before Tuesday evening’s game against the Rockies. “He’s not afraid.

“The thing I think he’s done this year is get left-handers out at a better clip.”

The differences aren’t statistically dramatic. Left-handers batted .283 against him in 2016 and are hitting .247 against him in 2017, with virtually identical OPS readings.

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But the command with which Greene increasingly is burning bats with his fastball-cutter combo is obvious.

Daniel Stumpf, too, is more and more becoming a happy option for Ausmus in situations where the Tigers need to put away a lone left-hander.

He did just that in the sixth inning Monday when, with the bases loaded and two out, Ausmus invited Stumpf to take on left-handed hitting Gerardo Parra.

Stumpf got Parra on a foul-tipped, 96-mph fastball for the strikeout that, along with Warwick Saupold’s preceding whiff of Nolan Arenado, Ausmus considered the game’s turning point. 

“I think he’s showing — he has to still prove it — but he can get left-hand hitters out in the major leagues,” Ausmus said of Stumpf. “The more comfortable he gets, the better he’ll be.”

Stumpf’s background, of course, is not your basic, cookie-cutter story of simple migration through the big-league farmlands.

He was drafted by the Royals, claimed by the Phillies in the Rule 5 draft, returned to the Royals, and then grabbed again in the Rule 5 draft, last December, by the Tigers.

Although he didn’t make the team out of spring camp, which under normal Rule 5 regulations would have sent him home to the Royals, his second-time Rule 5 status allowed him to say no to K.C.

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He signed with the Tigers and now, after time at Triple A Toledo, looks as if he might have found a home as your standard-issue, situational lefty.

That comfort to which Ausmus alluded seems to be seeping deeper into Stumpf’s bullpen psyche.

“I hate giving up other people’s runs,” he said after Monday’s game, speaking of the bases-loaded situation he was dealt. 

“I wanted to strand those runners for Saupy (Warwick Saupold).”