How will the Tigers use Phil Coke?
DETROIT — The Detroit Tigers are sticking with Phil Coke for now. The veteran left-hander gave up three runs in the ninth inning Tuesday night to the Chicago White Sox, who made it close after left-handed slugger Adam Dunn drilled a two-run homer off Coke with two outs.
Coke has a 13.50 ERA and batters are hitting .400 off him, but he remains in the bullpen rather than being replaced by one of three lefties in Toledo: Duane Below, Blaine Hardy or Nate Robertston.
Now it’s up to Tigers manager Brad Ausmus to find a way to use Coke. Joba Chamberlain put out the fire to save an 8-6 win against the White Sox. But if protecting a five-run lead didn’t work for Coke, what will be a good situation be for him?
"Sometimes it’s easier to have them face a hitter or two and get them out," Ausmus said. "That builds confidence, and confidence is a big part of this game."
Ausmus termed the breaking ball Coke has been throwing "a work in progress," and yet he needs it to keep hitters off balance.
"He occasionally loses the handle on it," Ausmus said. "And against Dunn, he did."
Dunn mashed the flat breaking ball.
Left-handed hitters are batting .308 against Coke, and righties are at .571 after six appearances this season.
Coke, 31, was sent to Toledo for six tune-up outings last season, but ended up 0-5 with a 5.40 ERA. Detroit keeps waiting for Coke to get the kind of results he had in the 2012 playoffs, but he’s struggled ever since. He had two saves and a 0.84 ERA in 10 postseason games, striking out 13 in 10 2/3 innings two years ago.
PUTNAM RECALLS SHORTSTOP AVILA:
Tigers catcher Alex Avila and White Sox right-handed reliever Zach Putnam played together as teenagers for the Ann Arbor Braves, a top-notch travel team that included three players taken in the first five rounds of the major league amateur draft.
"Alex was our shortstop and I played third base," said Putnam. "Alex never put the catching gear on until he was in college, and now he’s outstanding behind the plate. He started an All-Star Game and made an amazing transition. I have great admiration for the guy."
Avila shares a strong respect for Putman, whose father, Steve, managed the Ann Arbor Braves.
"We were the left side of the infield together," Avila said. "He was the No. 1 pitcher, but I was No. 2. And the No. 3 guy was Chris Rusin, who is pitching for the Cubs."
Avila (Tigers) and Putnam (Cleveland Indians) both were fifth-round picks in 2008 after playing for Alabama and Michigan, respectively. Cubs left-hander Rusin of Dearborn Divine Child was a fourth-round selection out of Kentucky by the Cubs in 2009.
Putnam played at Ann Arbor Pioneer High, while Avila returned home to play for Archbishop McCarthy High near Miami. He was spending that summer with his father, Al, who is Detroit’s assistant general manager.
Avila and Putnam slapped hands after Putnam completed an inning of relief Tuesday night, but Putnam came out after allowing one run in two innings with Avila coming to bat in the fifth inning.
"I thought I was going to get to face Alex," Putnam said. "For old time’s sake, that would’ve been fun."
AUSMUS AT THE FRIENDLY CONFINES:
Ausmus said he decided to take in a game last year at Wrigley Field while visiting family in Chicago. He loved playing there during 18 big league seasons, and wanted to experience it as a Bleacher Bum in right-center field.
"I just blended in," said Ausmus, noting that nobody noticed him. "Everybody was drunk…I had a couple of beers and a hot dog."
He wanted to catch a home run hit by anybody playing for the Cincinnati Reds to take part in a long-standing bleacher tradition that originated at Wrigley.
"I was hoping to get a ball to see if I could reach the infield," Ausmus said.
NOTEBOOK: Tickets for the April 15 game with the Cleveland Indians that was called because of cold weather will be honored for the 1:08 p.m. July 19 makeup game — which will be part of a day-night doubleheader…Danny Worth, recently recalled from Toledo, is expected to start at shortstop on Thursday afternoon…Don Kelly started in right field and J.D. Martinez started in left field on Wednesday night. Ausmus said Rajai Davis and Torii Hunter were being given a start off.