Coke sent to Triple-A after another rough outing

Coke sent to Triple-A after another rough outing

Published Aug. 20, 2013 10:06 p.m. ET

DETROIT – The next pitch Phil Coke throws will be for the Toledo Mud Hens, and that will have a calming effect on Detroit Tigers fans who had taken to booing him as he sprinted in from the bullpen at Comerica Park.

Coke was sent to Triple-A to work on…well, everything. The 2013 post-season star gave up a line-drive double to Minnesota Twins left-handed slugger Justin Morneau that drove in two runs and changed the course of a game Detroit would lose, 6-3, on Tuesday night. That made it 5-1 for the Twins and Coke was taken out after intentionally walking the next batter.

Tigers manager Jim Leyland has given Coke every chance to stay on the 25-man roster. But with him failing as a situational lefty, there really was nothing left to try.

Left-handed starter Jose Alvarez was called up from Toledo, having made a good impression in his spot start on Friday against the Kansas City Royals.

But if Alvarez doesn’t look like someone you’d want to trust coming in from the bullpen in a playoff game, Darin Downs should be called up in the next 10 days. He’s been sharp in his last six outings for Toledo with no runs allowed in 8 1/3 innings on four hits and four walks.

Downs made a good impression with Detroit earlier this season before trying to pitch through a shoulder injury, and he’s somebody the Tigers are watching very closely.

Adding another dependable left-handed reliever for sixth- and seventh-inning situations is critical. The only left-hander who is a lock to make the playoff roster is eighth-inning setup man Drew Smyly. So, don’t discount the possibility of Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski making a waiver deal by the Aug. 31 deadline.

Coke was told of the move after the game.

“He did not necessarily agree with us,” Leyland said. “But he was very professional.”

Coke said, “I figured it would’ve happened in the first half – not now. The velocity was back and I was getting big outs lately.”

Coke was 0-5 with a 5.83 ERA in the first half, and 0-0 with a 1.35 ERA since. But you can’t rely on those numbers to judge his second-half effectiveness. Often times, Coke came in and gave up a quick hit to a left-handed hitter and was immediately taken out of the game. If that one runner didn’t score, his ERA didn’t go up.

But here’s an interesting statistic to ponder: Coke posted a decent 3.44 ERA in road games, but had a 6.62 ERA this season at Comerica, where the boo birds had been chirping when he entered games.

Still, the statistic that doomed him to Toledo was left-handers batting .284 off him.
I asked Tigers pitching coach Jeff Jones what was responsible for Coke’s struggles versus left-handed hitters, who have hit .238 against him over his career.

“He’s just been inconsistent,” Jones said. “Coke’s been inconsistent with his location. And, hopefully, he will get his breaking ball going a little better and doing what it’s done in the past.”

Coke had been a workhorse in the three previous seasons in which he was exclusively a reliever in Detroit -- getting 72, 74 and 66 appearances those years. He spent 15 days on the disabled list this season, but still was used just 43 times for 36 innings.

Leyland said he had this message for Coke: “Don’t worry about getting outs…Concern yourself with making good pitches.”

The skipper said Coke would return Sept. 1, when rosters expand for the final four weeks.
“He’s very much a part of our team,” Leyland said. “This gives us an opportunity to look at Alvarez and see how he looks against left-handers out of the bullpen. His breaking ball was better in his last start than it had been.”

Coke will get another chance to prove that he’s worthy of the playoff roster next month. And so the callers to sports talk shows who loved to jump on Coke are only getting a chance to fret about something else for the rest of this week and next week.

But now, rather than holding onto a spot in the bullpen, Coke will have to earn his way back.

Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera aggravated something swinging at the first pitch in the ninth inning against Glenn Perkins, and it appeared to be either the abdominal or hip injuries he’s played over for seven weeks.

“You could see it on his face,” Leyland said. “And when I saw him come up the steps (from the dugout to the clubhouse), you could see he was in pain.”

Leyland said he wasn’t sure if it was the “groin or stomach,” and Cabrera didn’t address reporters afterward.