Bullpen stepping up for Tigers early on

Bullpen stepping up for Tigers early on

DETROIT -- What appeared to be a major weakness for the Tigers before the season has looked like a strength during the team's ascent from the depths of last place.

Detroit's bullpen has shined during its recent four-game winning streak. The offense has scored 10.5 runs per game during the streak, but it has been a corps of unproven relievers that has kept opponents off the scoreboard and prevented games from getting interesting. The 'pen has allowed two runs in its last 16 2/3 innings.

"Anytime you can go out there and throw well, it builds your confidence for everybody," reliever Zach Miner said. "I think that's what's been happening.

"You can say here, we're not doing as bad as everybody expected we were going to."

Only one reliever on the current roster has an ERA over 3.86. Three relievers -- Aquilino Lopez, Denny Bautista and closer Todd Jones -- have ERAs 2.25 or lower. But the biggest surprise has been left-hander Clay Rapada, who is tied for the team lead with two wins and has surrendered no runs and two hits in five appearances.

"They've done the job," manager Jim Leyland said. "We've put them in the right spots, protected them a little bit, and if we can get enough innings out of our starting pitching, they should be OK."

The Tigers will need strong pitching in a three-game series starting on Friday night against the high-scoring Angles, who just took two of three at Boston.

Not good news for Friday's starter, Nate Robertson, who has a 0-4 record against the Angles with an 8.91 ERA. Last year in his only start against them, he gave up eight earned runs on 10 hits in 5 2/3 innings.

"You just go in with a game plan and try to execute. That's all you can do," Robertson said. "I really don't go in there thinking of anything that's happened in the past."

Robertson praised the recent performances of the offense and bullpen, but he said he won't take them for granted.

"You can't rely on the bullpen saving the day from the fifth inning on, and you can't rely on the offense scoring seven-plus a game," he said. "Me personally, going out there and getting deep is the key."

Pitching matchup
DET: LHP Nate Robertson (0-2, 7.48 ERA)
Robertson was cruising during his last start against the Blue Jays until he ran into trouble during the fourth inning. Robertson escaped the four-run inning, but was finished after five. He allowed five runs on eight hits while striking out five en route to his second loss of the season. Robertson is 0-4 with an 8.91 ERA against the Angles.

LAA: RHP Ervin Santana (3-0, 2.67 ERA)
Santana, returning to 2006 form when he won 16 games, is coming off one of the finest efforts of his career on Saturday at home against the Mariners. Across eight innings, he yielded three hits and no walks, striking out eight. At Comerica Park, he's 0-2 with a 15.26 ERA.

Tidbits
The Tigers swept the Rangers in a three-game series for the first time since 2002. ... Detroit's five home runs on Thursday are the most by a team in the Majors this season. ... Jones celebrated his 40th birthday on Thursday. ... Magglio Ordonez has hit .500 (4-for-8) against Santana with two doubles and three RBIs. He has a .326 average in 72 career games against the Angles.

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Up next
• Saturday: Tigers (Armando Galarraga, 2-0, 1.50) vs. Angels (Dustin Moseley, 1-2, 7.78), 3:55 p.m. ET
• Sunday: Tigers (Justin Verlander, 1-3, 5.93) vs. Angels (Jered Weaver, 1-3, 4.50), 8:05 p.m. ET
• Monday: Off-day

Scott McNeish is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.