Changes Needed in Tigers' Rotation


I believe the honeymoon is officially over. I think it is now safe to proclaim that the back end of the Tigers’ rotation is not very good. Actually, not very good would be an upgrade.

The combined efforts put forth by Armando Galarraga and Dontrelle Willis over the weekend was just plain awful. How does 5.2 innings, 14 hits, 10 earned runs, nine walks and just one stikeout grab you? That’s the combined line of Willis and Galarraga at Pittsburgh over the past few days. These, folks, are not isolated incidents. The question now has to be what can be done about it?

It’s true that Galarraga began the season 3-0 with a 1.85 ERA. It’s also true that he was very good for a very bad team last year. And it appears that the pitcher that put up those numbers no longer exists. Galarraga has not won since his fourth start of the year, though prior to his performance on Saturday, he had turned in three straight “quality starts”. Saturday was just plain bad. If this was a guy who had been pitching well all along, it could be forgiven. This is not just a blip on the radar, though, it has become a trend.

Dontrelle, meanwhile, has exactly one good start in seven tries. One. His effort against Texas on May 19 was very very good and inspired many, me included, to extol his virtues and proclaim him to be “back”. It hasn’t gone well since.

Following his sparkling effort versus the Rangers, Willis has spiraled backward. In five starts since May 19, he has posted an 0-4 record, with an ERA of 9.53. He has walked 24 hitters over 22.2 innings against just 12 strikeouts. He consistently pitches himself into jams. This simply cannot continue. Dontrelle, for his part, said the same when speaking to’s Jason Beck following the game Sunday. And while his accountabililty is nice, it doesn’t put zeros on the board.

Much has been said by many a folk about what to do with Willis. No one will trade for him, I don’t see any way that they will release him with the amount of money he is still owed. As J. Ellet Lambie wrote to me about him, “They’ll have him working the concession stands before they cut him”, and I agree. The Tigers chose to extend him prior to the 2007 season and now they are stuck with him. But they cannot continue to hand him the ball and hold their breath. It’s just not fair to the team to continuously put everyone in a hole to try to dig out of. The only option for Willis is a spot in the bullpen, where he can hopefully be hidden and used only in blowout games.

Galarraga, on the other hand can be dealt with much more easily. Not only does he have a minor league option available to use, but his small price tag and the fact that he has shown good success in the major leagues could make him attractive in a trade. Either way, the Tigers cannot afford to basically forfeit two of every five games on the schedule. There are other arms that Jim Leyland can give the ball to. I think now is the time to do that.

Kurt has been on this for awhile, and now Billfer and Lee are on board, too. I guess you can begrudgingly add my name to the roll call now as well. Zach Miner should be given a rotation spot. I have never really been a fan of his, but it has been nice to have him on the team as a guy that could start, or could pitch two or three innings of relief.

Miner has shown a tendency to allow every inherited baserunner to immediately score, but seems to do fine when he enters the game to begin an inning. He has seen some success as a starter in the past, and while he’s not going to ever win a Cy Young award, he can keep his team in the game more often than not. At this point, that’s a whole lot more than Detroit has been getting from Willis or Galarraga.

Even if they add Miner to spell Galarraga, you would still like to have a lefthander in the rotation. I think everyone can see where this is going, and I’m sure there aren’t too many who will agree, but… Nate Robertson. That’s right. I can’t believe I’m typing this out but Nate is really the only other viable option to start games. If we assume that Willis will stay on the team because of his salary, and I will assume that, then he has to be hidden in the bullpen. Nate Robertson is currently in hiding there and you can’t hide all of them, so I will nominate him to start in lieu of Willis.

The Robertson story has been well documented. A mainstay on the 2006 AL Championship team, he pitched strictly as a starter for much of his career. Over the past two years, his velocity has slipped a bit, and he lost command of his patented slider. He lost out of the rotation competition this spring and was banished to the bullpen, where he has been used only sparingly.

Obviously, Leyland hasn’t much confidence in Robertson, and his numbers this year wouldn’t suggest he’s earned any. That being said, he has to be a better option than Willis doesn’t he? I mean, he can’t possibly be worse.

Mike Feld recently called the Tigers the worst first-place team in baseball and he points out several other glaring holes. And while I agree that the offense needs an upgrade (might I suggest Eric Hinske?), you could field a team full of all-stars and not be able to win when you get the efforts that Willis and Galarraga have been giving.

The winds of change are blowing in Detroit. I can only hope that management catches up before the Twins do.