Is there potential bullpen help for Tigers in Toledo?
TOLEDO, Ohio — If Detroit’s bullpen results don’t improve, the Tigers will start bringing in others to try to get the job done.
Those additions are likely currently pitching for the Toledo Mud Hens, who might be setting some kind of record by having seven left-handed pitchers on their staff.
If you’re thinking open auditions for Phil Coke’s possible replacement, you would be correct.
Tigers assistant general manager Al Avila was in attendance at Fifth Third Field on Tuesday night, when six different pitchers appeared for the Mud Hens in a doubleheader with the Indianapolis Indians.
That doesn’t necessarily mean a move is imminent, but could indicate something is being considered.
Detroit general manager Dave Dombrowski and Avila generally will consult Toledo manager Larry Parrish on such call-ups. And Parrish, who managed Detroit in 1998 and 1999, said that Blaine Hardy would be his choice for a lefty reliever and Justin Miller the pick if a righty was desired.
Hardy had given up only one hit over two innings with four strikeouts before Tuesday, when he surrendered four runs on eight hits in 2 1/3 innings against Indianapolis. He did, however, pick off two runners.
Hardy made nine starts last year for Toledo, but Parrish said he will be strictly a reliever this season — except for starting Tuesday’s second game, which featured only relievers.
"Hardy is in the bullpen because they want to pitch him there in case they (have a need)," Parrish said. "He can spin it with the curve and has a real good cutter. He can get some action on the balls. He has that kind of feel, and can sink it when he wants."
Hardy, 27, spent five years in the Kansas City Royals’ farm system. Detroit signed him before last season as a minor-league free agent. He posted a 1.63 ERA in relief for Double-A Erie in 2013 before getting called up to Toledo and going 6-1 with a 1.69 ERA primarily as a starter.
Detroit also signed left-handed Nate Robertson, a member of the 2006 World Series team’s starting rotation who has re-invented himself as a side-arming reliever. He’s in Toledo, along with Mike Belfiore, a lefty claimed off waivers recently from the Baltimore Orioles. Belfiore was a first-round pick in 2009.
The other southpaw reliever with Tigers potential is former starter prospect Casey Crosby. Duane Below and Kyle Lobstein are Mud Hens starters who could get calls to Detroit as relievers.
Lefty starter Robbie Ray won’t likely come to Detroit to join the bullpen. He’s considered a top starter prospect, along with Toledo right-hander Drew VerHagen.
Parrish said he’s never had close to seven left-handers on a staff.
"That’s unheard of," he said.
When it was mentioned that the oddity was a combo of Detroit’s needs for left-handers and its current talent pool, Parrish nodded and said, "Exactly. We need a lot of left-handers."
Parrish’s observations on the other lefties who could be considered by the Tigers:
Robertson: "The competitive nature is still there. He’s a sider-armer, and he’s got to do it now where he spots with it. But it was real windy the first game he pitched for us and it was harder for him to keep it in the zone. But he can last a long time if he can get a couple left-handed hitters out in a game."
Belfiore: "It looked like he’s got both the slider (for left-handed hitters) and curveball (for right-handed batters). He can locate his fastball and mix it up. He throws the ball down and away and may be able to be effective."
Lobstein: "He’s a command guy. He’s going to pitch in and out, and change speeds with a near-average fastball. He has the makeup to either start or relieve. He understands what you need to do to succeed. He has the composure to spot start or relieve, and you need a guy like that in your bullpen who can give you three or four innings."
Crosby: "We need to see more. For him, it’s going to be about how you bounce back after moving out of the rotation. If you pitch in the bullpen up there, you are going to have to go three days in a row."
Melvin Mercedes and Miller are hard-throwing right-handers, and Parrish sees Miller as being more Detroit-ready because his repertoire is more polished. Miller threw hard with command in a 1-2-3 inning with one strikeout to earn a save in Tuesday’s second game.
"Melvin, he’s got a good arm," Parrish said. "He has control but not command. He has to be able to go in and out when you need in and out.
"Pitching is like real estate. It’s location, location, location. Fastball-wise, yes. But he’s working hard on his secondary pitch and needs the slider.
"Miller did not look good early in the spring, but at the end, he got better angle on his pitches and was down in the zone. He had better slider command."
There isn’t a pitcher in Toledo screaming for a call to the majors, but there are a few possibilities. Keep an eye on their progress because the Tigers definitely are.