Monday, April 26, 2010

So far, Tiger starters have been letting the bullpen down

A bullpen, any bullpen, is only as good as that team's starting pitchers. It is the relievers' job to bail out the starters -- but first the starters have to protect the relievers.

As Jim Leyland has said over and over again, when you are using your bullpen because you have to -- rather than because you want to -- you are in trouble. 

That is exactly what the Tiger starters have forced their manager to do this month.

It is taking its toll on the over-worked bullpen, which on the whole has pitched surprisingly well in the spite of the loss of Bobby Seay and Zach Miner.

And it is reflected in the standings.

Justin Verlander, the man who absolutely has to lead the way if the Tigers are going anywhere this year, is 1-1 with an unsightly 6.95 ERA after four starts.

Verlander, who has struggled with his location, has thrown 93 or more pitches in each of his starts, reaching a season-high 125 last time out. Nevertheless, he has only lasted longer than five innings once.

Rick Porcello is also 1-1 with a similarly unacceptable ERA of 6.46. He, too, has only gone beyond the fifth inning once in his three starts. After last season, the Tigers except more.

Newcomer Max Scherzer has been the best of the Tigers' starters so far, lasting seven innings once and six innings twice in his four starts. Like Verlander and Porcello, Scherzer is 1-1, but his ERA is an impressive 2.63.

Going into the season, the Tigers were worried about the back end of their rotation -- and with good reason. However, things have not been nearly as bad as many feared.

Dontrelle Willis, whose last-minute inclusion in the starting rotation came as a surprise to some, is 0-1 with a 5.00 ERA. But he has twice pitched six innings and is showing signs of a possible return to form.

Jeremy Bonderman, who makes his fourth start Monday night in Texas, is 1-1 with a 7.20 ERA. He has definitely struggled at times, but he seems to be making progress in adjusting to his new style of pitching.

In the Tigers' first 19 games, they have led only five times, entering the seventh inning. Going into Monday night's game against the Rangers, the Tiger starters had yielded 10 runs in their last seven innings of work -- a recipe for disaster.

Frankly, under those circumstances, it is surprising the Tigers have fared as well as they have during these first three weeks.


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