The Tigers are the midst of a taxing stretch of games with few off days, while starting an important five game series against the Royals. Their last off day was August 1 and have since played thirteen days in a row. They have played three extra inning games in the past week. And now they face five games in four days before their lone off day of the month on Monday. These stretches in the dog days of summer usually lead to relief pitchers shuttling back and forth to Triple-A. Detroit's bullpen has finally settled down, but are they ready for the weekend?
Joaquin Benoit had not appeared in a week until Wednesday's extended outing. Apparently he now has the official "closer" title because Leyland would not bring him in when tied or behind by a run. But to Leyland's credit, he went old-school on Wednesday and used his closer when needed in the eighth inning. But after 27 pitches, I would be surprised to see Benoit on Thursday. And with a double header on Friday, there is the potential for two of the next three games to have an alternate closer.
Jose Veras may have a loss for Detroit, but is allowing less than one base runner per inning in his setup role. Veras closed games for the Astros, but has pitched in three of the last four games for Detroit. Like Benoit, he may be available for only one of the next three games.
Bruce Rondon is pitching much better since the All Star break. In his first ten appearances he was allowing nearly 1.8 baserunners per inning leading to an ERA of 6.00. But in his next ten, he has dropped his WHIP to 0.97 leading to an ERA of 2.19. He rested on Wednesday after pitching two days in a row. He may have the chance for a save if Thursday's game is close, but would not then be rested for Friday's doubleheader.
Al Alburquerque is a high-risk-high-reward option, racking up too many walks to go with impressive strikeouts. He has pitched in two of the last three games, and had a stress fracture in his elbow in late 2011. He may not be available until Friday.
Jeremy Bonderman is the last right-handed option. He only appeared in one of the last four games, though it was an extended 33 pitch outing in extra innings. While his targeted role is long relief, he may have a chance to close a game this weekend.
Drew Smyly can be trusted in any role out of the ‘pen. But he has pitched in back-to-back games. Leyland will want to rest him on Thursday and then use him in a limited role on Friday.
Phil Coke has pitched every other day for the past week. He did not pitch on Wednesday, so if the pattern holds he will be used on Thursday. He is the most rested arm in the bullpen, but with good reason.
So Thursday's candidates are Rondon, Bonderman, and Coke. The Tigers need strong outings from Sanchez on Thursday and Verlander on Friday. They will likely call up Jose Alvarez for the second game of Friday's doubleheader. If the starters do not pitch deep into the games, Alvarez will have company on the shuttle from Toledo as the Tigers will be bringing up fresh arms.