We heard earlier today that lefty Phil Coke is heading to the DL and righty Jose Ortega is heading to Detroit to take his place. The fact that Coke is heading to the DL is no surprise – it had been a suspiciously long time since he had pitched in a game – and the fact that Jose Ortega got called up to Detroit is no big surprise. The fact that Phil Coke was replaced by Jose Ortega IS a little bit of a surprise.
The reason is simple: Phil Coke is a lefty and Jose Ortega is a righty, we expect lefties to be replaced by lefties to fill the same role in the bullpen and there IS a lefty down there in Toledo banging every bit as loudly on the door as Jose Ortega was. That lefty would be Kenny Faulk. Jose Ortega DOES have a 0.00 ERA and 12.2 strikeouts per 9 innings so far this season in Toledo. But Faulk has an identical 0.00 ERA and 14.5 strikeouts per 9 innings so far this season in Toledo.
I’m not a big believer in trusting small sample stats for call ups, especially for relievers, and if you compare their whole minor league histories there is absolutely NO comparison between the two. Both have been almost exclusively used in relief, but while Faulk’s career numbers are a 2.92 ERA and 11 strikeouts per 9, Ortega’s are a 4.01 ERA and 8.3 strikeouts per 9. That isn’t all that close. Ortega throws harder, but Faulk should probably be considered the better relief prospect. Of course, it’s possible that it’s just clicking right now for Ortega – which would be nice. His stuff has been good but raw, and hittable as a result.
Now in reality there was no real choice to be made here. Ortega is on the 40-man roster, Faulk is not. Coke, it would appear to the casual observer, has been revealed to be the third best left-handed reliever in the current Tigers ‘pen. Drew Smyly isn’t a garbageman, he is very, very good left-handed reliever. The Tigers didn’t need to have a lefty and they certainly weren’t going to go to the lengths necessary (namely making room on the 40) to bring up Kenny Faulk. Still, if you ARE Kenny Faulk and you ARE allowing zero runs and striking out a batter and a half per inning I’m sure what you’re hoping for every single day is (sad as it may sound) that Phil Coke gets hurt, because the only way you’re getting a break is if the big-league club has a desperate need for a southpaw. That happened, and he didn’t get the call. I imagine that’s a little deflating.