THE TIGER BULLPEN – WHO WILL EMERGE?

By:  Kurt Snyder

Sometimes when you scan the roster, you try to envision who’s going to be the guy, one you eventually won’t be able to do without.

Every team that has won championships or has come close like the Tigers, have had unexpected contributions. And you count on the unexpected to happen. You need the unexpected to happen. You need that missing link.

Last season, the Kansas City Royals went to the World Series riding the coattails of their tremendous bullpen, and the guy that stood out was Wade Davis. He had arrived the year before when they traded for James Shields. He was a 5th starter kind of guy, someone to eat some innings, who didn’t really fare well in that role; in fact it was a disaster. But last season, they inserted Davis into the bullpen and he suddenly became a monster who literally was unhittable in the 8th inning.

Two years ago, Drew Smyly who more than anything wanted to be in the starting rotation, was on the outside looking in. Of course he was, we were looking at Verlander, Scherzer, Sanchez, Fister and Porcello as our starting 5.  Drew had to go to the pen. But he was talented and versatile enough to adjust and he found a place as a middle reliever or spot starter when needed.

But it wasn’t long before he was in the thick of things late in games, often inserted into pressure situations. He suddenly was the setup guy and he became extremely valuable in that role. But last year, following “that Fister trade,” he was inserted into the starting rotation. But as the season progressed, the Tigers missed him in the pen. And they were never able to effectively replace him in the setup role at least not for the whole season. They missed Smyly badly in the pen, it turned out.

So if we look at our relief pitching, is there a Drew Smyly in that pen? Well, I think there are 2 candidates and one may arrive there in an indirect fashion.

Kyle Ryan strikes me as a guy that doesn’t get rattled; he has a calm about him, a key intangible suitable for late game duties. He will be a guy (assuming he makes the team) the Tigers use initially in the middle innings when needed, but like Smyly, he may find himself brought in late in games when other guys can’t be counted on.

With the Tigers’ situation at closer, I see all this transpiring if the worst happens: Nathan can’t cut it and Soria moves to the ninth. Suddenly, they will have to scramble to fill roles in the 7th and 8th and inserting Joba back into a late inning role is not the answer. At some point you have to learn from past mistakes. I would reduce his role if anything this year. He can’t be counted on as much as we asked last season.

This should open the door for Ryan. And they will only fortify that late inning staff if Rondon arrives on the scene at some point this season.

Who knows what to make of the Rondon news. We all freaked out when Iglesias hurt his shin earlier in the spring and he survived; hopefully it will be the same with Rondon.   He’s certainly an important piece in my bullpen transformation.

An off speed, strike thrower like Ryan could be the change of pace guy they need coupled with Rondon late in games; a versatile combination that can get you to Soria in the ninth. But what do we do before Rondon returns or if he doesn’t? Well, they will need someone outside of Al Al & Joba to get through the late innings. And that guy could be Alfredo Simon.

When Simon arrived here, I thought bullpen; it really was a better fit given our struggles. But I understood why he was brought in to start, given the void left by the departure of Porcello.   So, another big arm out in the pen would make a huge difference; and it would be someone who’s done it before, effectively. Two things could send him to the pen: ineffectiveness as a starter or a poor long-term prognosis for Rondon.

Regardless, I still have eyes on a September pennant race where you can throw out a back-end bullpen combination of Simon, Rondon and Soria, with a little Kyle Ryan sprinkled in to surgically put away some lefties.

Now, how the back-end of the starting rotation is supplemented as a result is anyone’s guess and for Brad to figure out. I can’t fix everything.

All in all, if Mr. Rondon isn’t able to come to this party, we will have to figure out who else to invite. Never a dull moment in Tiger nation.