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Tuesday Morning thoughts on the late-innings implosion

Relief pitcher Octavio Dotel gets a visit from catcher Alex Avila n the ninth inning against the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field.
Relief pitcher Octavio Dotel gets a visit from catcher Alex Avila n the ninth inning against the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field.

Monday night's 3-2 defeat by the Seattle Mariners may have been one of the most frustrating Tigers losses this season. (Like self-torture? Rank the top five Tigers losses this year!) Although I admit to nodding off prior to the the most torturous half-inning, I figure we can still review a few key aspects of the game this morning.

Leyland's decision to pull Doug Fister may have been premature but was not a big deal. Making his first major-league start in a month after returning from the disabled list with an injury located near his ribs, Fister cruised through seven innings in 73 pitches. The Mariners did seem to hit the ball a bit better against him during the final inning -- there were a few "uh-oh" moments that Andy Dirks safely corralled in left field. But Fister looked good to go if the Tigers wanted one more inning out of him. Leyland didn't. He called in left-hander Phil Coke and declared Fister's day over.

Although it makes sense to keep an eye on Fister's effort and pitch count -- after all, including his minor-league start he has made just two appearances in a month -- it seemed a bit premature to me. Maybe Leyland just wanted to be on the safe side, while giving Fister a good feeling in his first game back and giving Coke a clean slate to begin with. I'm not sure that I completely agree with Leyland's choice here, but given the circumstances it hardly seems like a big deal.

Leyland's decision to use Octavio Dotel should have been safe. I think this is the decision that we can really sink our teeth into. Should Leyland have left Phil Coke in for a second inning, or should he have called on Octavio Dotel to close out the game?

Coke has spanned parts of two innings on the mound three times this year. Most recently he threw in the eighth and ninth innings of a loss to Seattle on April 24. He allowed two singles and a double in the ninth inning of that game. A run scored and another runner was thrown out at home. On April 22 against Texas, he blew the save by allowing a run to score in the eighth inning, but escaped his second inning on the mound only allowing a single. On April 8 against Boston, he helped Detroit escape the eighth inning only to allow a pair of singles to lead off the ninth. One run scored ... when Octavio Dotel relieved him.

Dotel, a former closer, has in recent years picked up only a handful of saves per season. Generally speaking, he's fine in high-leverage situations. Batters do not do significantly better against him, and usually have an OPS somewhere in the .600s. Both last year and this, Dotel has done a good job limiting baserunners. His WHIP last season was 0.85, this year it's 1.07. He's still striking out more than 10 batters per nine innings.

Knowing all that, I find it hard to make an argument this was an obviously wrong decision. Of course, you always fear a pitching change, as each new reliever is an opportunity for things to go wrong. But pitching changes happen. It looks like a move that should have worked out fine, but didn't. (As for Joaquin Benoit or Jose Valverde pitching: Valverde needed a day off. He's not a robot. It's a long season. Benoit pitched on three consecutive days just twice last season, neither time before June. Given his past arm history, I think it's safe to assume there's good reason for Leyland's pre-game decision to rest him.)

The offense takes the loss. Look, the only reason we're talking about the bullpen at all is that the offense again didn't put enough runs on the board. For the third time in five games, the Tigers lost, 3-2. Four the fourth time in five games, the Tigers failed to break the three-run barrier. Using Baseball-Reference's play index this morning, I found the Tigers have a league-leading seven games in which they scored exactly two runs. They're 0-7 in them. The league winning %, by the way, when you score just two runs is .215. To be fair, the Tigers have nine games in which they scored two runs or fewer. That is almost exactly the MLB average. Also, they're 0-9. An average MLB team would have been expected to win about one, but 10 teams are also winless when scoring two runs or fewer.

In short, with the offense stalled, the team is losing. That's exactly what you'd expect to happen. Don't act so surprised.

Luck played a factor. Some people hate to hear the "L" word in baseball. I don't know why. Do they think batters have the ability to pinpoint where the ball should hit the grass when it comes off the bat? The Tigers had their chances and came up empty. With two on and one out in the third, Miguel Cabrera hit into a double play -- but only after the ball bounced off the pitcher in a line-drive shot. Brennan Boesch and Ryan Raburn both had balls that could have fallen safely into fair territory, but just missed.

Ultimately, this is a game the Tigers had a good chance to win, despite continued frustrations and struggles at the plate, but didn't. One part luck, one part decisions turning out poorly.