It seems, to me, that there is really only one question remaining with respect to the Detroit Tigers’ pitching staff. That question is whether Drew Smyly will stay in the big league bullpen or head to the minors to remain a starter.
Another way to phrase the question: will Smyly take up the last bullpen spot, or will it go to Darin Downs?
I guess Kyle Lobstein remains in the mix as long as he’s in the organization with Rule 5 status, but his chances look incredibly slim, if they even exist. But, any way you slice it, I just don’t see how more than one of these three lefties make the bullpen.
Lynn Henning of the Detroit News had a different take, thinking that Smyly and Downs both could make the team. But in order for that to happen, someone needs to get the boot, and he sees Al Alburquerque as potentially being that guy.
Al Alburquerque has not pitched well enough to unseat Downs, another left-hander the Tigers won’t mind carrying. Smyly would appear to be the team’s pick to pitch long relief, or help in late-inning situations.
Leaving aside the question of whether or not the Tigers would want Smyly to convert to relief for the season, I just don’t understand why it would be Alburquerque who would need to “unseat” Downs. Alberquerque is no sort of ultra-established big leaguer, but he’s much more of that than Downs is and he has shown quite a bit over the last two seasons (and last playoffs).
Al Al is a guy they’ve trusted in high leverage situations in the past, and he’s succeeded in his role more often than not. In 62 innings over the last two seasons (including playoffs), Alburquerque has recorded a 2.03 ERA while striking out 13 batters per nine innings. He’s done the job well against both left-handed and right-handed batters, and his slider has proven to be nearly unhittable.
Alburquerque hasn’t seen good results this spring — he has a 5.40 ERA in 10 innings — but should ten innings erase what he’s done in real games the last two seasons? Absolutely not. Should he have to “unseat” a low-leverage LOOGY with fewer than 21 innings under his belt? No way.
I like Darin Downs. I think he should make the team, but he’s not going to make the team at the expense of a guy like Alburquerque. A small sample of results in exhibition games shouldn’t override what we’ve learned over two years of real games.
Alburquerque is going to make the team because he’s one of the best two or three relievers they could put in the bullpen. His spring stats shouldn’t matter here.