Question Marks Still Remain In Detroit Tigers' Bullpen

By Spencer Impellizzeri
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Tigers have had problems with their bullpen during the last two seasons, so Dave Dombrowski went out and made some changes to it this offseason.

Joaquin Benoit and Jose Veras were signed by other MLB clubs and Drew Smyly has moved into the starting rotation following the trade of Doug Fister to the Washington Nationals.

The Tigers signed Joe Nathan to come in and be the closer. Nathan is coming off back-to-back All-Star Game appearances and will solidify the back end of the Tigers’ bullpen. He is coming off a very successful 2013 season where he was 6-2 with a 1.39 ERA with 43 saves.

After that, there are a lot of question marks with who is gong to fill what role.

The Tigers are hoping that Bruce Rondon can step up and fill the setup role that Benoit filled so well during his time in Detroit. Before last season, Rondon was the front-runner to take over the closer position, but the Tiger’s felt he wasn’t ready and he spent some time in the minors before making his big league debut in late April. A hard throwing reliever, Rondon can throw his fastball over 100 mph and put up decent numbers in his debut MLB season, creating a lot of optimism in the Tiger’s clubhouse.

Another option in the setup role is Joba Chamberlain. Signed as a free agent from the New York Yankees, Chamberlain will provide a veteran arm for the Tigers. The only problem with Chamberlain is his consistency. Chamberlain’s numbers have been up and down over the past few seasons, as he has struggled with injuries. The Tigers are taking a chance on signing Chamberlain and hope he can return to the dominant form he showed early in his career.

Ian Krol is another new addition, and he is the leading candidate to take Smyly’s place in the bullpen. Krol was acquired from the Nationals in the Trade that sent Fister to Washington. A left-hander, Krol will serve as a specialist out of the bullpen. While Krol has very good numbers against left-handed batters, he struggles with righties and will be used accordingly out of the pen.

Phil Coke is the other lefty in the Tigers’ bullpen and he will look to rebound from a down 2013 season. Coke saw his ERA sore above 5.00 for the first time in his career last season, along with an increased number of walked batters in less innings. He was a reliable member of the Tiger’s bullpen in his first three seasons with the team and will look to regain that form.

Al Alburquerque is another arm that the Tigers are counting on this season. Alburquerque returned last season after missing the 2012 campaign with an injury and posted some promising numbers. He finished 4-3 with a 4.59 ERA on the year, but had a 2.25 ERA and held Boston Red Sox batters to a .159 batting average in four innings of the ALCS. The Tigers are hoping that Alburquerque can improve on those numbers and return to the form he showed in the 2011 season, where he went 6-1 with a 1.87 ERA.

The Tigers have some other players, like Luke Putkonen, Jose Alvarez, Jose Ortega and Evan Reed, on the roster that are in the mix to be in the bullpen. Putkonen is the most likely of the bunch to see innings after putting up a 3.03 ERA last year. Alvarez is a pitcher who started six games for the Tigers last season, and could be kept as an extra arm in the bullpen or sent to Triple-A to get more innings.

Figuring out the bullpen will be a main focus moving forward, as the Tigers want to avoid the problems that the bullpen has caused in the past.

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