Is Phil Coke finished as a Tiger? Who are the alternatives?

Lefty Blaine Hardy might be the next Tiger to be called up - Stacy Revere

Phil Coke was again hammered, and looking more hopeless than ever. But do the Tigers have alternatives to replace him?

Phil Coke was again hammered, this time for three runs on four hits, including a monster two-run blast by Adam Dunn. If his status on the Tigers roster was never before in question (and it should have been), it certainly is now.

Coke was summoned in the ninth inning on Tuesday night with the Tigers holding an 8-3 lead over the Chicago White Sox. After retiring the first two Sox hitters on strikeouts, his first two strikeouts in six appearances this season, Coke gave up a double to Marcus Semien and an RBI single to Paul Konerko before Dunn took him deep to bring the White Sox within two runs, and bring Brad Ausmus out of the dugout to get him.

When the dust had settled, Coke was left with a 13.50 ERA, a 2.25 WHIP, and a batting average allowed of .381. Small sample, to be sure, but Coke's spot on the roster was hanging by a thread all winter. and many were left wondering how he even made the team this spring. One has to wonder whether he will remain on the roster at this point.

The Tigers sent Coke to the minor leagues last August, just before his five-year anniversary in the majors, when he could be sent down without his consent. He was recalled for the last month of the season, but finished the year on the disabled list. In order to be sent down again, he would have to be designated for assignment, put on waivers, and outrighted with his consent.

If the club does decide to remove Coke from the roster, who might be called up to take his place in the Detroit bullpen? Coke is one of two left-handed relievers on the 25-man roster, Ian Krol being the other. In this situation, the club will normally look to see who is pitching well at the time, and a player already on the roster would have an advantage, although that may not matter since Coke's departure would leave room on the 40-man roster for another player to be added.

So, here is a brief look -- small samples though they are -- at how the Tigers' pitchers are doing in Toledo:

Player Status Roster IP ERA WHIP BB SO
Kyle Lobstein LHSP YES 16.2 5.94 1.74 6 17
Robbie Ray LHSP YES 15.0 3.00 1.33 4 9
Melvin Mercedes RHRP YES 8.0 3.38 1.13 1 7
Casey Crosby LHRP YES 10.0 4.50 1.60 8 8
Jose Ortega RHRP YES 10.1 4.35 1.65 6 9
Mike Belfiore LHRP YES 8.2 7.29 2.19 10 6
Player Status Roster IP ERA WHIP BB SO
Blaine Hardy LHRP NO 11.1 4.76 1.32 2 14
Jhan Marinez RHRP NO 10.1 9.58 2.42 13 9
Nate Robertson LHRP NO 12.1 2.19 1.38 7 6
Duane Below LHSP NO 14.0 1.93 1.71 11 13

You will notice that I have included a couple of left-handed starting pitchers in this group. It is possible that, with Luke Putkonen now on the disabled list, the Tigers may call up a starter for long relief duty. They have four starting pitchers in the rotation who are right-handers, and opposing managers are stacking their lineups with left-handed hitters as much as possible against Detroit.

Robbie Ray is so far performing the best, but the Tigers very likely want to keep him starting. He and Kyle Lobstein, who isn't doing so well early this season, would be the most likely to be called up should the Tigers need a starting pitcher.

The two left-handed relievers currently on the 40-man roster are both struggling badly so far this season. Casey Crosby has been converted to the bullpen this year with the objective of gaining some control. Mike Belfiore was claimed off waivers from the Baltimore Orioles at the start of spring training.

Blaine Hardy remained in major league camp much longer than expected this year, and is probably having the best season among left-handed relievers in Toledo. His ERA is a bit deceiving, as he has held opponents scoreless in five of his seven appearances, giving up four runs and two runs in the other two. He posted a 1.67 ERA and a 1.02 WHIP between Erie and Toledo last season. He would get my vote.

Melvin Mercedes is on the roster, and is the most talented of this group of pitchers, but he is right-handed and is still a work in progress. The role in Detroit could feature long spells between appearances unless they gave him a bigger role immediately. He is currently the Mud Hens' closer. At age 23, he had a 1.19 ERA last year between Lakeland and Erie.

The most interesting pitchers would be former Tigers Nate Robertson and Duane Below. Robertson converted to relief work and rejoined the Tiger organization this spring. Below was claimed off waivers by the Marlins last spring and reclaimed by the Tigers this past winter. These two have the most experience.

Jose Valdez is a young right-hander at Erie, and Ryan Robowski is a 26-year-old left-hander with the Seawolves.

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