The Detroit Tigers' bullpen is where closers go to die. That's what I heard on the internet, anyway, and the internet has never led me astray. Relievers Justin Wilson, Mark Lowe, and Francisco Rodriguez are the new additions who are supposed to shore up the back end of what has recently been a very shaky relief corps, and now that we've seen them each pitch one inning in the first game of the season, we're in a position to pass judgment on what their entire 2016 season will look like.
No, no, don't come at me with any of that "small sample size" nonsense, I saw what I saw on Tuesday night, and that's all I needed to see.
Ok, maybe I should take another look. A closer look.
Wilson and Lowe are both fine. Wilson gave up one base hit, then set down the next three batters in a row, two of them on strikeouts. Lowe gave up a leadoff triple to last year's National League batting champion (shruggy-shrug-shrug, what are you gonna do?), then set down his next three batters in order, also racking up two strikeouts in the process. (Unfortunately, he also gave up a sacrifice fly that scored Gordon from third.)
Those four strikeouts between Wilson and Lowe are exactly what you want to see from your back-end relievers. For far too long, the Tigers have been lacking strikeout artists for the late innings, so there's a lot to like in what we saw from these two guys.
K-Rod? That might be a slightly different story, but let's roll the tape and see just what happened before we draw any permanent conclusions.
Normally, K-Rod's changeup is his most devastating pitch. He threw it 43 percent of the time last season, and had a 25 percent whiff rate to go with an 11 percent ground ball rate. Opposing batters only hit .097 with a .053 ISO. It's a good pitch, and it's looked good all through spring training.
Martin Prado led off the ninth inning with a single, mostly because K-Rod put the changeup here:
That location is, in sabermetric terms, "not good." The more traditional baseball term for that location is "[censored]." But ok, that's one mistake, we can live with it.
Justin Bour whiffed on that same pitch and fouled it off twice before lining one into right field for an out. So far, so good.
J.T. Realmuto got a fastball and hit it here:
That may not be a great double-play grounder, but it should at least be good for the second out of the inning, considering that the ball hit the ground a few feet in front of the plate.
What the ball wasn't supposed to do was bounce off the ground and into the stratosphere, and land here:
Incredibly, that massive bounce and slow roll into left field was enough to let Realmuto cruise into second base with a double. That's not bad pitching, that's a dumb-luck paper cut followed by a lemon juice bath.
What should have ended with -- at worst -- a runner at second and two outs, ended instead with two runners in scoring position and only one out.
Adeiny Hechavarria got another changeup in a bad location:
That one is entirely on K-Rod. Hechavarria hit it hard, and only some timely defense from Justin Upton kept the damage limited to a sacrifice fly instead of a bases-clearing double.
(The upside? Dan Dickerson nearly lost his mind when Upton made the catch.)
Derek Dietrich got himself into a 1-2 count before swinging at this diving changeup.
I mean, come on.
That's a whiff pitch in a great spot, and it should have ended the game, either with a strikeout or a weak grounder.
Look at that location!
Dietrich had no business hitting that pitch, much less whistling it into the gap in left-center field for an RBI double. If you're keeping score, that's two bad-luck outcomes and two poorly located pitches.
The final mistake was throwing the changeup to Dee Gordon in this location:
Yeah, that's another RBI double, fair and square, and that run officially tied the game and earned K-Rod a blown save on Opening Day.
In the final tally, Rodriguez threw 19 pitches, 68 percent of which were changeups, the rest of which were high-80s fastballs. Of the 13 changeups he threw, he induced a 23 percent whiff rate, but also allowed a 38 percent line drive rate. All three outs he recorded were on balls in the air, and obviously we're going to want to see more strikeouts before we start to feel safe with K-Rod closing games.
But that inning should have ended earlier than it did. It should have ended with a save, however messy.
Instead, a very gun-shy fanbase that is still trying to recover from 2014 and 2015's bullpen-induced trauma is now even more on-edge, ready to declare that K-Rod is just another aging reliever past his prime who's come to Detroit to end his days covered in shame and failure.
It's far too early for that. Let's at least give K-Rod until the end of the week before we bury him, OK?