BOSTON -- The Tigers went into the postseason hoping they could get Phil Coke and Bruce Rondon back from their injury woes if they advanced. They went 1-for-2 in that regard.
With the left-handed bats of the Red Sox looming in the American League Championship Series, the Tigers are hoping that Coke's return can make a difference in their bullpen. He hasn't pitched in a game in more than three weeks, but his numbers against Red Sox hitters made it worth the shot.
Coke hasn't pitched since Sept. 18, hindered by a forearm flexor injury that he said had been bothering him well before that. When he reported to the Tigers' Florida instructional league team in Lakeland to work out, his return seemed like a long shot. A combination of rest and treatment, however, freed up the tightness in his arm to that point that he could throw.
Less than two weeks later, he's good enough to give a shot. Thus, the Tigers added him to the ALCS roster, removing Luke Putkonen. That gives Detroit three lefty relievers in a seven-man bullpen, but Jose Alvarez is considered a long reliever, while Drew Smyly doesn't have the track record.
Coke went 0-5 with a 5.40 ERA in the regular season, allowing 43 hits over 38 1/3 innings. That includes a career-worst .299 (23-for-77) average allowed to left-handed hitters. However, nobody wearing the Old English D has held down Boston's lefty hitters like him.
David Ortiz is 2-for-18 with four strikeouts against Coke, though Ortiz got him for a go-ahead RBI single on June 20 at Comerica Park. Jacoby Ellsbury is 1-for-11 with four strikeouts, including 0-for-10 since 2009. By contrast, Ortiz and Ellsbury went 4-for-7 combined against Smyly, 2-for-5 this season in Smyly's current role.
A healthy Rondon with a 101-mph fastball would've given Leyland a chance to mix and match even more, but that's a long way off. Rondon is working out in instructional league, but he is not throwing. He's still working his way back from the elbow inflammation that sidelined him for most of September, save for a three-strikeout, 10-pitch inning Sept. 24 at Minnesota that briefly raised hopes he could be a huge part of the Tigers' playoff push.
Rondon's continued absence likely means more opportunities for Al Alburquerque, whose slider had helped him recapture his role as Detroit's strikeout specialist. He hasn't pitched since taking the walk-off loss in Game 2 of the Division Series in Oakland, where he gave up back-to-back singles in the ninth after racking up back-to-back strikeouts in the eighth.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less