Phil Coke is one of just two left-handed pitchers in the Detroit Tigers‘ bullpen, but after his poor start to the 2014 season, the Tigers are down to just one reliable option.
Coke saw his first action of the season on Saturday but lasted just one-third of an inning. He entered the game in the top of the ninth inning with the Tigers holding a 7-1 lead but gave up three runs on two hits and a walk while getting just one out.
This performance is very concerning for the Tigers. Coke had the worst season of his career last year, and his start has him going in the opposite direction of where he needs to go.
Baseball is a game of matchups, and the key to that is having a balance of arms in the bullpen. Teams use those arms to pit pitchers against hitters in an effort to create favorable matchups. Left-handed pitchers create a favorable matchup against left-handed batters and the same goes for right-handed hitters and pitchers.
Coke’s struggles leave Ian Krol as the only reliable lefty in the pen. The Tigers’ starting rotation only features one lefty as well, and this could be a major weakness for them.
The lack of lefties problem should present itself in the innings between the starting pitcher and the closer, Joe Nathan. The Tigers are without setup man Bruce Rondon for the season after he had Tommy John surgery, and now the lack of lefties puts added stress on the rest of the bullpen.
One way to relieve this stress is to find a second lefty option in the bullpen so that the Tigers can play the matchup game. Krol can’t throw every game, so a second option is needed.
Based on the small sample size, Coke should get some more chances to improve his numbers, but his leash should be very short. If he doesn’t show improvement, the Tigers would be wise to find another option, whether it be from the minor leagues or by making a trade with another team. The Tigers have shown their willingness to trade for replacement players this spring with the additions of Austin Romine and Alex Gonzalez to fill in at shortstop, and a similar solution might be needed for this issue.