Coke looking to answer when called for relief

Coke looking to answer when called for relief

KANSAS CITY -- The Tigers' 9-2 win over the Royals on Saturday night was fairly well-assured by the time Phil Coke entered to pitch the ninth inning. The two runs on three hits he allowed only broke up the shutout bid, rather than forcing anything close to a save situation.

However, they continued Coke's struggles to finish off hitters.

"He got ahead of some hitters and then ... the one pitch that missed location, they took advantage of it," manager Brad Ausmus said.

Coke had 1-2 counts on the first three batters he faced. Nori Aoki slapped a ground-ball single to left, Omar Infante flew out to deep center, then Eric Hosmer turned on a breaking ball and doubled to the right-field corner.

From there, Billy Butler hit a first-pitch fastball for a sacrifice fly, then Danny Valencia lined a 2-0 breaking ball down into the right-field gap.

It was the third straight outing in which Coke has either given up runs or allowed inherited runners to score. He attacked the strike zone better, but didn't get the grounders from his breaking ball that eventually helped him settle down last Saturday at Minnesota.

Entering Sunday, Coke had given up eight runs on 13 hits over his last 7 2/3 innings, walking three and striking out four. His fastball has gained velocity, but his breaking ball continues to be tinkered.

"He's throwing 92-94. He's added this cutter-slider he gets some bad swings on," Ausmus said. "It always seems to be one pitch, but my gut says he's going to clear the hurdle. We're going to need him."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.