Mailbag: Keeping bullpen sharp is tricky

Mailbag: Keeping bullpen ready is challenge

I just don't understand why, why, why Leyland did not work his bullpen into games prior to this big homestand. As predicted, the rarely used pitchers were finally called upon, but, because they had virtually whatsoever in the prior weeks, they came in cold and were completely ineffective. It is so frustrating to see such a great manager make such a poor non-decision. Do you have any thoughts on what his reasoning is to not get his bullpen some work when the opportunities were there?
-- Mike M., Saginaw, Mich.

I think you're exaggerating your point on virtually no work and completely ineffective, but I see your argument. Getting work in for relievers is always going to be a guessing game. If you use Joel Zumaya in an 8-0 game, and then play two one-run games after that in which you need him, you're kicking yourself by Day 3 for using him in the rout.

But realistically, the bullpen struggles centered around relievers who had been used pretty regularly. Todd Jones had two days' rest before both of his losses, nothing out of the ordinary for a closer. Bobby Seay didn't have more than a couple days of rest this homestand until the tail end, and he struggled regardless of days off. I think your argument fits best with Jason Grilli, because he hadn't pitched for four days leading into Sunday's outing.

Leyland is the kind of manager who's going to give his regular starters every chance to stay in the game and show him something. He stuck with Kenny Rogers and Jeremy Bonderman two weeks ago in Kansas City and it paid off, with Bonderman arguably taking a pretty big step. He's not going to give a quick hook to his main guys.

Combine that with the fact his bullpen centers around Jones, Zumaya, Fernando Rodney and Jamie Walker, and that leaves three relievers -- Seay, Grilli and Roman Colon -- who could go for quite a while without work. Colon is the long man, so that goes with the job. Grilli and Seay are the interesting cases, because they've had both specialist duty and innings-eating work this year.

I may be one of the few fans who is more worried about the future of the Tigers than the present. My main issue is with Justin Verlander and his pitch counts and innings. I understand that 114 pitches over nine innings isn't that many pitches, but my concern is with the rest of Justin's season. Leyland has gone on record saying something to the effect of, "I know what I have to do to limit pitchers' innings throughout the season," but what is it? Has anyone asked him? Verlander threw around 130 innings last year, but he's on pace to throw over 200 this year. You can't force an immature arm to do that, especially one that could be an ace for the next decade.
-- Eric, Clawson, Mich.

Verlander's innings have really popped up in his last four outings, starting with that pitching duel he had against Johan Santana. He was settling in at six to seven innings per start going into that outing, and his innings have ballooned since. The Kansas City game was a case of Leyland wanting to give Verlander a chance to get the shutout, and Verlander was throwing 99 mph in the ninth, so he didn't look tired. If it had been an 8-2 game, Verlander would've been out of there. The Minnesota and Cleveland games before and after the shutout were both close contests, and Leyland was going to stick with his starter.

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So how do you reconcile a rookie phenom-type of pitcher who's on track for a big innings workload? That came up after the Kansas City game, and Leyland told reporters he was concerned about it and he'll take care of it. I think that's what Leyland has in mind when he keeps dropping hints about calling up Jordan Tata or someone else from the Minors for a spot start and giving everyone an extra day of rest. I think, too, you'll see Verlander taken out earlier as the season wears on. Aside from flat-out shutting him down, there's no way they can keep him under 160 innings this year, so he's going to be pitching above pace. I don't think they'll let him throw 200 innings, though. I don't know where it'll fall in between.

Now that Mike Maroth appears to be out for quite a while, and both Roman Colon and Zach Miner have proven to not be the answer as his replacement, what are the odds the Tigers will try to trade for a quality starter? Maybe Dontrelle Willis?
-- Lewis H., Midland, Mich.

First of all, I don't think you can say a guy has proven to not be the answer after one start. Colon arguably deserved one more chance to show something, and Miner will get his. To answer your question, though, I don't see the Tigers trading for a starter right away. Too many teams still see themselves as having a chance to contend, and those that don't are still going to wait until July to drive up the price. I'm not convinced Detroit will give up what it'll take to get Willis, especially if it means giving up Zumaya. Short of that, you're basically looking at renting a veteran starter from somewhere, and I only see that happening if the in-house options (Miner, Tata, Wilfredo Ledezma) don't work out.

It is well known the Tigers need a left-handed bat. From what I hear there is a good one in San Francisco who happens to be good friends with Leyland. Could you see the Tigers trying to trade for Bonds before the deadline? And would it be worth it?
-- Brian, Detroit

No, I think friendship only goes so far. For one thing, anywhere Bonds goes, he's going to be a gigantic distraction, mainly for the attention that surrounds him. Plus, I don't see the Tigers acquiring anybody who can only DH. Leyland has shown he likes to use the DH spot to keep his regulars off the field for a day. I seriously doubt Bonds will be traded, anyway, not from the one city that loves him. If he leaves SF, it'll be as a free agent.

It's hard to get a true read on relievers from the available stats: for instance, Walker's ERA. How about, for example: first batter faced. How have the Tiger relievers done vis-a-vis the first batter they've faced when they've entered the game, especially in the middle of an inning? Can we see these numbers?
-- Mark S., Princeton, N.J.

I can give you first batters retired and faced from the Tigers game notes:

Colon 4/4
Grilli 10/16
Jones 15/20
Rodney 17/24
Seay 9/13
Spurling 4/9
Walker 13/18
Zumaya 12/21

I haven't heard much about Kyle Sleeth in a while. I was wondering how soon before we should expect to see him pitching again?
-- Mark H., Shelby Township, Mich.

Sleeth made his return last Friday at Class A Lakeland. He gave up four runs (three earned) on hits innings in three innings with two walks and a strikeout.

Jason Beck is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.