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Leyland looks to settle bullpen

Leyland looks to settle bullpen

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TORONTO -- The Tigers seem to have their closer in Fernando Rodney. After that, they admittedly have some work to do.

At least two Tigers relief decisions Wednesday were set before the game started. Rodney was going to get his first outing of the season regardless of the score, and Ryan Perry was going to make his Major League debut before either one rested too long.

Those decisions aren't the ones concerning manager Jim Leyland right now. With the relief corps lacking definition at the back end, Leyland wants to get rid of some of the uncertainty.

"We have to get the tail end of our bullpen going," Leyland said, "and we've got to mess with it a little bit until things fall into place."

Asked when he'd like to have his bullpen sorted out, Leyland said, "Now. Now's the time."

Part of the challenge in doing that is the hope that the Tigers have a healthy Joel Zumaya coming back soon. With Zumaya throwing 43 pitches in his most recent extended spring camp outing Tuesday, he's stretching his arm out to the point where a rehab stint at Triple-A Toledo or Double-A Erie likely isn't far off. He's eligible to come off the disabled list Saturday, but barring something spectacular, Zumaya won't be ready to join Detroit then. At this rate, though, he shouldn't be far off.

For now, Leyland has a couple pieces to play beyond Brandon Lyon and Rodney. Juan Rincon has experience in setup situations from his successful years with the Minnesota Twins. Perry has the talent and the arsenal to pitch in the late innings, though not the experience, and he would've pitched the 10th inning of Tuesday's game if it had remained tied.

"We'll get our roles straightened around, and we'll be fine," Leyland said.

He knows the consequences if they don't.

"For any team in baseball, losing games late is a killer," Leyland said. "It happened too often last year from the seventh inning on. Those are not good for the overall health of your team."

Leyland's comments came a day after Lyon, expected by many to be the closer until Rodney was granted the first shot at the job to start the season, gave up a go-ahead homer in the eighth inning and the winning run in the ninth.

The decision to put in Lyon was not one of those issues that needed to be sorted out. As Leyland pointed out, that's a situation Lyon is normally supposed to handle, given his experience.

"We were asking a guy that was a closer last year for Arizona and, when we got him, some people thought may be our closer this year, to get one out in the eighth inning," Leyland said. "I don't think that's unreasonable."

That said, Leyland added, "He did not have a very good spring."

The reason not to use Rodney in that situation is the possibility of extra innings. In those situations on the road, teams will often save their closer until they have a lead, then use him to close it out in the bottom of that inning.

"You might use him in the ninth," Leyland said, "but generally, you don't."

Leyland did not go to Rodney in the eighth because he doesn't want him to pitch multiple innings if he's the closer, just as he didn't want to do it with former closer Todd Jones.

"I normally don't like to use my closer two innings," Leyland said. "I like to avoid that at all costs if I can."

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

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