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Tigers move Coke to 'pen, Furbush to rotation

Tigers move Coke to 'pen, Furbush to rotation

Tigers move Coke to 'pen, Furbush to rotation
DETROIT -- The Tigers were steadfast in their support of Phil Coke as a starting pitcher since announcing the move last fall. But halfway through the season, it just isn't working.

Thus after a 1-8 record in 14 starts, including three straight rough outings, Coke's turn in the Tigers' rotation is done. Fellow left-hander Charlie Furbush, a starter for his entire pro career before joining Detroit's bullpen in mid-May, will take Coke's spot beginning with Monday's start against the Angels.

It's a move many expected in the wake of Wednesday's loss to the Mets, who hit Coke's pitches for eight runs, seven earned, on 10 hits over four-plus innings.

"It was not a tough decision," manager Jim Leyland said Thursday morning. "It was a disappointing decision, because we hoped that it would work out better. We thought it was certainly worth it. I think the stuff's there. Sometimes you weigh your options of who else you have.

"It's good to say, 'Well, this guy's not doing it, so I'm going to put in somebody else.' But who are you going to put in there? It's easy to say, 'We have to do something,' but what do you do? It's always a two-part thing."

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In a different situation, Leyland said he still believes Coke's transition might have worked out. But with the Tigers tied for first place in the American League Central at the season's halfway point, the standings didn't afford them much patience.

The Tigers were looking to get to this point when Leyland and team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski agreed to try shifting Coke's role out of setup work at the end of last season. With a rotation void of left-handed starters and Coke having experience as a starter for much of his pro career, plus the variety of pitches to go with it, the Tigers decided it was worth a shot, especially while prospects Andy Oliver, Jacob Turner and Furbush continued their development.

"Our thought process all along was, 'Let's give this a shot because we don't really have some other guys ready yet,'" Leyland said. "Going in, that's what we were thinking: 'Let's get to the halfway point and let's see what it is.' Here's the halfway point, and it wasn't working. So we're making the adjustment."

While three AL pitchers have suffered more losses than Coke this year, they've all won more recently. His lone victory came April 14, and his stretch of 12 winless starts is the longest by a Tigers starter since their 119-loss team of 2003. Adam Bernero went 0-10 over a 17-start stretch that began June 15, 2002 and ended May 31, 2003. Just days before that, Mike Maroth ended his own 12-start winless streak.

Other than an injury-shortened outing last month, Wednesday was Coke's quickest exit from a start this year. Add Wednesday's damage to outings against the D-backs and Rockies, and Coke has allowed 18 runs, 16 earned, on 22 hits over his last 13 2/3 innings. Moreover, Leyland said Coke has looked more frustrated in recent outings.

"I don't know what's going to happen with Furbush," Leyland said, "but I'm smart enough to know right now that it just wasn't working with Phil."

Coke's remarks after Wednesday's game and again Thursday morning were more like exasperation.

"I've done everything I can possibly think to do," Coke said. "I'm not 100 percent happy, because I am giving everything I've got and I'm coming up short, and it looks really bad. My ERA, my record, walks to strikeouts -- who cares what the numbers say? I'm giving everything I've got, and I'm coming up short, period. Foot's fine. I'm fine. I'm a little irritated right now, but I'm fine. Everything's going to be fine."

Leyland had hinted last weekend that a move could be in the works when he said that he could now envision Furbush as a starter, after saying several times previously this year that he saw Furbush's future as a reliever. His success in long relief played a major role in that.

The lanky 25-year-old crashed the upper echelon of Tigers pitching prospects last year by striking out 183 batters over 159 innings, good for second among all Minor League pitchers in all organizations. His 55 strikeouts led the International League this year when he was called up to fill in for injured Brad Thomas. Furbush also owned a 4-3 record and a 2.91 ERA, allowing 29 hits over 46 1/3 innings. His lanky frame and deceptive delivery has proven to be tough on hitters at all levels.

"I'm excited," Furbush said. "It should be fun. I've been a starter my whole career, so I'm just going to do the same thing I've always done, get back into that routine. ... I've always wanted to be a starter at the big league level, so I'm looking forward to the opportunity."

It's a chance that goes against Leyland's tendencies as the Tigers' manager. Usually, he has filled rotation spots from the Minor Leagues rather than shifted folks from the bullpen, but Furbush's history this year was an exception. And as Leyland pointed out Thursday, he moved John Smiley from the bullpen to the rotation in Pittsburgh once upon a time and found a 20-game winner.

"I can't tell you it's going to work or not work," Leyland said. "I'm not smart enough to know that. All of a sudden, you're putting a young guy in a pennant race? I don't know. I put [Joel] Zumaya and [Justin] Verlander in a pennant race in 2006, and they did all right. I think he'll do fine. Do I expect him to tear it up? No. But do I expect him to be good? Yeah, I do. I think he'll be OK."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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