Tigers’ bullpen continues to struggle in loss to White Sox

Chicago's Marcus Semien clears the bases with a drive to left.  

Rick Osentoski

DETROIT — In a horrible month for the Tigers’ bullpen, Evan Reed had been the last man standing.

Wednesday night, though, it was his turn on the firing line.

Reed allowed the White Sox to load the bases with one out in the seventh inning, and Marcus Semien followed with a grand slam off Ian Krol to hand the Tigers another late-inning defeat.

"That’s unacceptable," Reed said after the game. "This one is on me."

How will the Tigers use Phil Coke?

Reed came into the game after a strong start by Drew Smyly, but he didn’t look like the same pitcher who had started the season with six scoreless outings. Paul Konerko started the inning with a single, and after Alexei Ramirez hit a line drive right at Austin Jackson, Alejandro De Aza added another base hit. Reed then made things worse by walking Tyler Flowers to load the bases.

"I knew Konerko was going to swing at the first pitch, and I left a fastball up," he said. "If I locate that pitch where I want it, that’s a groundout. Same thing with De Aza — that one was a slider up that would have been strike three if I get it in the right spot. Then I walk a guy. All season, I’ve been keeping the ball down and today I left everything up."

Krol came in to face lefty Jordan Danks and got him to pop up, and, with Adam Dunn lurking on the White Sox bench, Brad Ausmus left him in to face the right-handed Semien. 

"I wasn’t going to make a move, because Ian can get both righties and lefties out, and we didn’t want Dunn coming in for a situation where he can change the game," Ausmus said. "There was a switch-hitter coming up after that, so I wanted to keep Ian in there."

It didn’t work. Krol fell behind 3-1, and Semien launched the next pitch into the Tigers’ bullpen.

"I thought about throwing him a changeup, but I didn’t want to walk him," Krol said. "So I threw a 3-1 fastball up and away, which is exactly what every hitter wants to see on 3-1. Walking him would have been a better option than that."

That’s unacceptable. This one is on me.

Evan Reed

The Tigers aren’t likely to make a major trade for relief help in April, especially since Ausmus still has full confidence in Joe Nathan as his closer, but there are certainly issues. Detroit’s bullpen has a 5.60 ERA, and that includes two scoreless outings by Smyly, who is now in the rotation.

Krol has struggled badly against right-handed hitters, allowing a .357 batting average with two homers in 14 at-bats, while Phil Coke hasn’t been able to get anyone out. The options for a lefty in Toledo aren’t much better, with former Tigers cast-offs Duane Below and Nate Robertson highlighting the possibilities.

Justin Miller bailed the bullpen out with two scoreless innings to finish Thursday’s game, but the Tigers need either Krol or Joba Chamberlain to set up as a consistent set-up man to get the ball to Nathan.

The Tigers nearly overcame the bullpen mess with a ninth-inning rally, putting the tying runs on second and third with two out, but Alex Avila hit a 3-0 rocket right into the glove of Jose Abreu at first base.

"That was my call to give him the green light, and he had a great swing at it," Ausmus said. "Alex has been swinging the bat well in the last few days, and he hit a 400-foot double off (Matt) Lindstrom the other day, so I wanted him to be aggressive."

If Avila had hit the ball two feet higher, it would have been a game-tying double, and he and Ausmus would have looked like geniuses for swinging away.

Instead, Reed and Krol were left sharing the blame for another loss snatched from the jaws of victory.