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Tigers' Randy Wolf brings experience and hopefully some relief to a taxed pitching staff

First impressions can mean everything. At 39 years old, Wolf got off to a good start with the Tigers.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

DETROIT -- Acquiring a 39-year-old minor leaguer who has spent the last year in Triple-A, only to throw him into a major league start was enough to make more than a few fans apprehensive about what the results would be. Well, it wasn't perfect, but Randy Wolf's debut for the Detroit Tigers in a 5-3 loss Saturday wasn't a disaster. In fact, Wolf's start was solid with the exception of the third inning.

The difference between Wolf at this point in his life versus a much younger version of himself is he didn't get knocked out of the game after giving up five straight singles and four runs in the third inning. The experience is there, sure. Wolf has plenty of that. Anyone with experience can handle the typical ups and downs of a major league game. But knowing who you are as a pitcher is another aspect entirely.

"Well, I gotta be honest. I may be 29 years old [sic], but I'm glad I was nervous, because if I wasn't nervous, then I would realize that I need to retire," Wolf said with a laugh, taking a page from former Tiger Torii Hunter's book about age. "To be out there, and have that kind of nervous anxiousness -- which kind of got my delivery a little fast in the game -- it was nice to just tone it down, and find my delivery as the game went on."

About the only difference in Wolf these days in his view is that he's added a cutter to his pitching arsenal. Tigers manager Brad Ausmus echoed that, though, and said that after the rough third Wolf got into a "groove" and kept hitters off balance. The lefty allowed just one hit after the third inning, retiring 15 of the final 16 batters he faced. Four of his five strikeouts were after the third inning.

The Tigers needed someone who could eat innings. Someone who wouldn't be knocked out of a game so early that it ate into the bullpen and taxed an already depleted relief staff. It's one start but first impressions can mean a lot. Particularly at 39 years old.

Tigers fans haven't exactly had a storied past when remembering older players -- Joe Nathan comes to mind. The big red button of despair is that the player is washed up. That it's a desperate attempt to grasp something that's just not there anymore. Wolf acknowledges that he's no longer a spring chicken. But were he younger, Wolf said he wouldn't have fared so well in that third.

"Absolutely not. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have gotten out of that third inning," Wolf said. "I probably would've walked a couple guys. For me, I'd rather give up hits than walk guys. ... I had a couple opportunities where I could've put a couple guys away, and got them back in the count where they could put a ball in play, and they just happened to be hits. You learn from that and move on."

On his 39th birthday, Wolf may have taken the loss but he lightened the load for the bullpen and kept the game within reach. The offense has dried up recently and a lack of run support has brought every minor error and mistake to bear for the pitching staff. There's no room for error.

Since the Tigers' back-to-back double-digit runs against the Cubs in Chicago, Detroit's offense has put up just seven runs across four starts. They were shut out on Friday and nearly fell victim to the same fate on Saturday night, saved by Ian Kinsler's bat on a three-run home run in the ninth with two outs. It would have been the first time since 2008 that the Tigers would have been shut out in two straight starts.

Wolf made the necessary adjustments after the Rangers ambushed him in that fateful inning. A fourth run might've scored despite Tyler Collins' errant throw from left. It wouldn't have mattered without an offense to back the pitching staff up.

At this point in Wolf's career, pitching at his age "borders between drive and insanity" he said. But he still does it and brings along a sharp sense of humor to the team. Hopefully he'll be able to keep eating innings and give the Tigers pitching staff some much needed relief.

"I bring up the average age a little bit," he laughed. "I also feel like, as it goes on, I feel like I could give good innings, help this team with some stability. That's really my goal. I'm not going to come in here, and have a sub-1.00 ERA and be amazing, but I feel like if I give as many solid innings in a game as I possibly can, that helps out not only the rotation, but the bullpen as well."