At the beginning of the season, the Detroit Tigers had no clue what the bullpen was going to look like. They had high hopes for Brayan Villareal, who they eventually traded away. They thought Bruce Rondon was going to fall into the closer role with ease, and anointed him to the position way before he had a chance to prove himself.
They then called on Jose Valverde to try to get the job done, and he failed miserably.
However, Wednesday’s game against the Cleveland Indians showed that the Tigers’ ‘pen is headed in a completely different direction, and they put the icing on the cake as they released Valverde for good.
Rondon has become the reliever the organization hoped he would. He touched 103 mph on the radar gun at Progressive Field, which makes his slider downright scary. He pitched two perfect innings and posted three strikeouts. More importantly, he appears comfortable and confident on the mound, and hasn’t struggled with control issues lately like he did in the beginning of the season.
They’ve also reunited with former starting pitcher Jeremy Bonderman, and what a reunion it was.
The Tigers are using Bonderman as the long-relief man out of the bullpen, and Wednesday’s 14-inning thriller was the perfect spot to use him. Bonderman’s line for the game was three innings pitched, one hit, zero walks and zero runs allowed. He struggled to perfect a third pitch while he was a starter, but the importance of that is not as great out of the bullpen.
Joaquin Benoit had one of his more nerve-racking outings, giving up a run in the 14th inning and stranding the tying run on third base, but last night’s game wasn’t indicative of how he’s pitched this season. He now has a 1.53 ERA and has converted all 14 of his save attempts.
Jose Veras has been everything the Tigers hoped he would be when they traded for the reliever before the deadline. He’s pitched 5.1 innings while allowing just one walk, zero hits and zero runs.
With the additions of Veras, Bonderman and the progression of Rondon, the Tigers now have one of the best bullpens in baseball. Drew Smyly gives them the left-handed option out of the ‘pen, and is a great change of pace from the other relievers around him.
With all the injuries the Tiger have been dealing with lately, the timing for the bullpen to come together couldn’t be better. Jim Leyland used to look worried when he signaled to the outfield and pulled one of his starters, but now he can do it with confidence.