DETROIT -- Drew Smyly moved into the bullpen at the end of Spring Training to stay in the big leagues as a long-relief specialist. It was a way to keep his arm in shape if he ever needed to return to the rotation.
Now Smyly is making another move in the bullpen, this time toward late innings because of his ability to get hitters out from both sides of the plate. Manager Jim Leyland has been pairing Smyly with Phil Coke in late innings to shake lineups filled with hitters from both sides of the plate.
With four relievers under the age of 27, Leyland is hoping to see more consistency.
"It's not like we have an established guy down there like a [Octavio] Dotel that has been through the wars and you pretty much know what you are going to get," Leyland said. "With kids and grandkids, we don't know."
Smyly is the only reliever with more than six innings on the mound to have an ERA of under 3.00 against hitters from both sides of the plate. He has thrived in the bullpen, dropping his ERA of 4.30 against right-handed hitters last year as a starter to 2.84 this season. He has held right-handed hitters to a .260 batting average, and left-handed hitters have fared much worse, mustering only a .100 batting average against him.
"That's why I keep stressing that a lefty has to get a righty out up here," Leyland said, "and a righty has to get a lefty out. If they can't, that makes it difficult."
Although Coke works to cut down the .343 batting average that right-handed hitters have against him, Leyland says he is more than just a lefty-lefty specialist.
"Cokey should be," Leyland said, "because he has the changeup and plenty enough fastball with a breaking ball to get a right-hander out."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. Bobby Nightengale is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.