Are there truly any options in the Toledo bullpen?

Is Bruce Rondon truly ready for a Major League return? - Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Are any of the bullpen guys in Toledo showing any promise of playing pivotal late inning roles for the Tigers this season?

With the word coming down in the last week or two that we were going to re-launch on Bless You Boys I started putting together a game plan of what I should write about. With some vacation time from work, I decided I would catch the June 19 Tiger game against the Orioles. This of course was the infamous game where Papa Grande came in and allowed four runs in the ninth during mop up duty and was his final appearance before being DFA’d by the Tigers.

As Papa was allowing hit after hit, I sat in my seat wondering who they may replace him with in Toledo. Knowing the Mud Hens were playing that night against Lehigh Valley, I decided to make the short trip down I-75 and see for myself who may be noticeably missing in the Toledo dugout and to also get a first hand look at the Brayan Villareal’s and Bruce Rondon’s of the world to see how they were progressing. If you haven’t read Patrick O’Kennedy’s piece on the in house options for relievers, do it. It is a well thought out piece, but unfortunately, I will have to respectfully disagree that there is an in house option for a late inning reliever. Here is my look at the most likely candidates the Tigers have in house and why I feel they are not currently viable.

Bruce Rondon: Like almost everyone else, I thought that Rondon would get the tap on the shoulder to replace Valverde. It came as quite a shock to me upon my arrival to Toledo after the Valverde melt down that Rondon was actually the first guy I saw in the Toledo dugout. Looking at the numbers, his 0.94 WHIP, 1.57 ERA and just over 2:1 K/BB ratio, it would lead you to believe that he is ready to go. The fact that he didn’t come up tells me one thing. He has not yet shown the organization what they want to see to convince them that he can stay full time with the Tigers. What is he missing? Well in an interview I did with Phil Nevin earlier this season, we may have some insight.

“He does have to have his secondary pitches in order and that is what we’re working on”, stated Nevin. “You can’t just go throw 100 and hope they don’t hit it at the big league level because they will”.

My interpretation is that the Tigers have not yet seen a dominant or even good secondary pitch yet and that is why he isn’t in Detroit. After somewhat having egg on his face after declaring him the closer in the spring, I’m convinced Dave Dombrowski will not call him up until he is convinced Rondon is in Detroit to stay.

Brayan Villarreal: I’m a Villarreal fan. He has thrown in some big situation for the Tigers over the last few seasons, but something is broke. His stuff is good, velocity is fine, but his fastball command is absolutely horrid right now. I have seen Villarreal throw in Toledo twice now and in both appearances he threw more balls than strikes and was lifted before finishing the inning. In this particular outing, he was only able to last 1/3 of an inning while he threw 31 pitches, 16 of which were balls. The damage? 3ER, 3 H, 3BB’s a wild pitch and one of the walks came with the bases loaded. The loan out he was able to record was a gift as the base runner tried to stretch a single to center into a double and was thrown out by quite a wide margin. He has walked 24 guys in 27.1 IP and has a WHIP of over 1.5. It is almost as if he has caught a case of the “Ricky Romero’s” and unfortunately looks to be closer to pitching at Uht Park in Erie rather than Comerica Park in Detroit.

Jose Ortega: Ortega, like Rondon has pretty much been dominating the International League this year. In 21.1 IP, he has a 0.84 ERA and a WHIP under 1 and 2:1 K/BB ratio. Ortega is a somewhat known commodity as he spent a couple of week with the big club. I like his arm and believe he is a big league arm but he did not give the Tigers the confidence that he could handle the late innings. In two save opportunities for the Tigers, he blew both. His GO/AO ratio was near 1 and was extremely hittable at the big league level. In 14 1/3 IP, he gave up 13 hits with three of them leaving the ball park. Not exactly the swing and miss stuff you’re looking for out of a late inning guy.

Matt Hoffman: I like Hoffman a lot. He is left handed and has a good arm. The problem is that he is probably built more as a situational LOOGY than a late inning dominator. With Darin Downs, Drew Smyly and Phil Coke currently in the pen, I’m not sure the Tigers need another lefty at this point, but if one of them were to falter, Hoffman is someone that could step into their role.

Jess Todd: I haven’t seen much of Todd, but I did like what I see out of him. He was easily the most dominant pitcher for Toledo during my recent trip and kept the opposition at bay to allow the Mud Hens offense to fight back and make a game of it. He featured a good fastball with lots of life that he moved around and kept hitters off balance with a good change up. Originally drafted by the in the second round by the Cardinals, Todd has seen some major league time. He has appeared in 20 Major League games with his last appearance in the big leagues coming with Cleveland in 2010. His MLB career to date has been less than stellar however as he has a career 7.66 ERA and a WHIP of 1.9, a H/9 ratio of 13.7 and a HR/9 of 1.6. These numbers aren’t exactly what you’re looking for out of your late inning guys.

There are guys in Erie that I feel will be good pen guys for Detroit in the future. Names like Will Clinard and Melvin Mercedes have come up, but they don’t have many innings above A ball and there is a world of difference between the Eastern League and the Florida State League. At this time, it is best for their development to get consistent work in Double-A rather than to pitch in limited roles in Detroit.

With the in house options seemingly few and the time ticking towards the trade deadline, I’m of the opinion that Dombrowski and the Tigers will be looking to attain a viable bullpen option. I'm not in favor of completely depleting the farm, but the situation will need to be addressed. It may not be a dominant closer and I don’t believe it needs to be, but a more stable late inning situation will obvously have to be attained.

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