Just when the Detroit Tigers’ faithful started to get comfortable with their bullpen, a week like last week happened. Al Alburquerque gave up a walk-off home run to Tigers killer Michael Brantley in the tenth inning of Monday’s game. Two days later, Joe Nathan, who had been better than solid(as I
jinxed wrote about last week), blew a save to the Indians on a David Murphy two-run homer and suddenly everything seemed incredibly shaky again. Enter Corey Knebel.
The Tigers’ bullpen is a crazy place where, more often than not it seems, fans are simply wishing on a wing and a prayer that their relievers can do a good enough job to squeak out the win. This became a bit easier for fans to handle as news of the signing of Joel Hanrahan broke, and maybe even easier as we’ve followed the upward arc of the talented, young Knebel.
By all accounts, Knebel nearly made the squad out of Lakeland. Instead, to give him room to grow and improve in a less stressful atmosphere, he was sent to AA Erie where he rocked and rolled through the Sea Wolves opposition. In eleven games, he pitched fifteen innings, gave up eight hits, four runs(two earned), eight walks and struck out twenty three, leaving him with an ERA of 1.20 and a WHIP of 1.067. On the back of these numbers, Knebel was promoted to the AAA Toledo Mud Hens and, though the sample size is incredibly small, didn’t only maintain his AA dominance, he actually pitched a little better. In four innings of work over three games, Knebel did not allow a run. He gave up only two hits, walked one, hit one batter, struck out four and posted a WHIP of 0.750. Again, this is an extremely small sample size, but one can’t ignore the fact that the pressure didn’t seem to effect Knebel at all. If anything, it made him stronger.
With a career minor league line of 50 IP, 24H, 8R/5ER, 19BB, 68K averaging out to a 0.90ERA, a 0.860WHIP and 12.2 K/9, the future is Knebel’s for the taking. And it seems, with the way he’s handled himself so far when moving up, that he will be able to handle the pressure that comes with entering a bull pen that desperately needs him to be as good as advertised. He may even thrive on it. Of course, nothing is certain, and it’s a real possibility that Knebel isn’t quite ready for the Big Leagues yet. But I wouldn’t bet on it.