After Thursday's loss to the Twins, in which Todd Jones blew a two-run lead, the Tigers' closer was the popular whipping boy on Detroit sports talk radio, message boards, and a few blogs. The general sentiment seemed to be, "Enough is enough."
Defenders of Jonesy pointed out that Thursday's blown save was only his second of the season. Yet as his ERA hovers around 5.00 (its current 5.09 is actually an improvement from a week ago), and that roller coaster style of pitching (put a couple of runners on base, don't strike anyone out, bring the tying or lead run to the plate, etc.) endangers every lead the Tigers give him, Jones's method of closing becomes more and more insufferable.
And now, maybe even Jim Leyland - frequently Jonesy's biggest defender - has had all he can stands, and can't stands no more. Before last night's game, Leyland announced that he would begin reducing Jones's workload and begin to divide ninth inning duties among other relievers in the bullpen. The Tigers' manager emphasized that Jones was still Detroit's closer. However, he's not always going to pitch the ninth inning with the game on the line, especially when he's pitched the night before.
"I'm going to back off him a little bit.
"I'm just going to watch him closely and maybe start using somebody else a little bit from time to time."
Even Jones himself admitted that it's getting more difficult for him to pitch back-to-back games, which is definitely a part of the closer job description.
"It's a little tough to bounce back," Jones said Thursday after pitching the day and night games, "but I've got to be ready when the phone rings. ... I'm ready for (the ball) when he gives it to me."
So who gets the ball when Jones doesn't? Leyland said Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney would likely close out the game, depending on each pitcher's workload, game situations, and so forth. Freddy Dolsi will surely be in the mix, as well, especially if the Tigers view him as someone who could potentially be their future closer, along with Zumaya.
Though this could initially be seen as some kind of punishment or indication that Leyland doesn't trust Jones as he once did, rotating players in a role to keep his older players fresh has worked out pretty well for Pudge Rodriguez and the catching situation. Brandon Inge's oblique injury eventually shelved Leyland's plan to alternate catchers every other day, but reducing Pudge's workload behind the plate definitely seems to have given him more energy, especially with his bat. Perhaps the only difference in this decision is that Leyland didn't make a point of noting that things could change.
While this decision doesn't necessarily represent a white flag, it does appear to nod toward the future. Jones isn't going to be the Tigers' closer after this season, and the team needs to figure out if Zumaya, Rodney, or Dolsi can handle the role, both mentally and physically. If not, that probably shapes Dave Dombrowski's off-season agenda.