DETROIT -- If Tigers rookie right-hander Ryan Perry has a late-inning role in his future, then his present role is going to be a nice tuneup.
Largely lost in the resurgence of setup man Brandon Lyon and the continued statistical efficiency of closer Fernando Rodney is the versatile work of Perry, who has progressed from being set aside for select situations earlier this summer to working about as many close games as someone not in a setup role can expect.
Perry's past six games have been either two-run contests or closer when he has entered, including his two scoreless innings in Saturday's 3-1 loss to the Rays. Five of those outings have come in the seventh inning or later. Three of those games, Perry entered with a runner already in scoring position.
Perry has allowed three earned runs over 8 2/3 innings in that stretch, with five walks and 11 strikeouts. Since returning to the Tigers in July, he owns a 2.66 ERA with six earned runs on 17 hits over 20 1/3 innings, including eight walks and 22 strikeouts.
It's adding up to quite an induction for Perry in his first full professional season at any level.
"I definitely like that," said Perry, who had a similar late-inning role at the University of Arizona the previous couple years. "I like the feeling of wanting to go in there and blow those guys away."
He's getting a little more of that power arsenal involved. He hit 97 mph to strike out All-Star Evan Longoria leading off a scoreless eighth inning Saturday.
Those are situations manager Jim Leyland likes to use to get Perry acclimated to late-inning work. If Perry can hone his pitching in situation that keep the Tigers close enough to rally late, it isn't a big leap to progress to protecting leads.
"The more innings he gets, the better off he's going to be," Leyland said.
Given the Tigers' uncertain bullpen situation for next year, it isn't hard to see Perry making that jump next year. Both Rodney and Lyon are free agents, while Joel Zumaya will be coming off surgery to clean up a stress fracture in his throwing shoulder.
Leyland said Sunday he can envision Perry as a potential setup man next year, with the possibility of closing later in his career as he matures.
Before that, however, he could have a very big role should the Tigers make the postseason. If it happens, his experience for the past few months could be vital.
"In the playoffs, you definitely want to have those types of situations under your belt," Perry said, "especially when the games mean a lot more."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.