Rookies Show Nothing to Deter Tigers Trade Talk
By John Parent
The Detroit Tigers fell to Chicago 6-3 last night in a game that saw Tigers manager Jim Leyland use three consecutive rookie hurlers. Left hander Duane Below made his second career start and pitched well for a good while. With two outs and one on in the fifth, Below’s Tigers held a 2-1 lead. Unfortunately, an error moved Juan Pierre into scoring position and then a 2-2 pitch to Alexei Ramirez was inexplicably ruled a ball. Things went downhill in a hurry for Below after that.
I had no issue whatsoever with Below making the start. He had performed well enough in his first outing and with no clear alternatives, he was the obvious (and correct) choice to go last night. I also didn’t have an issue with bringing in Chance Ruffin with the sacks drunk and two outs in the fifth.
It was a tight spot for sure, but Ruffin, with his short-relief pedigree, can get loose in a hurry and is school in high leverage situations. Sure, they all came on a much smaller stage than US Cellular Field, but nonetheless, I was okay with Ruffin getting the call there. It didn’t work, but I can see the thought process. Not all decisions, even the right ones, work out.
The biggest issue I had last night was Leyland’s insistence to run Ruffin back out there for the sixth, where he yielded a solo home run, and then again for the seventh. Ruffin hasn’t pitched in what would be considered long relief in his pro career and hasn’t been a starter since his second year of college. To suddenly ask him, in his big league debut, to go out there for his third different inning is putting Ruffin in a position to fail, and reminiscent of Fernando Rodney in Game 163. He allowed another home run before mercifully being lifted from the game.
I know he threw only 20 pitches in his 1.2 innings of work, but with relievers it seems to be less about pitch counts and more about their routine. Short relievers aren’t used to warming up, entering the game, sitting between innings and going back out there. Maybe for the sixth (in this situation), but certainly not for the seventh. It’s just a different mindset than what Ruffin has had to do in the past. Ruffin hasn’t been in the big leagues long enough (all of about four hours before he made his appearance last night) to prepare for a long relief role.
Through the struggles of Ruffin (allowing tow inherited runners to score, plus two of his own), the Tigers stayed close, thanks to Miguel Cabrera‘s home run in the seventh. They wasted an opportunity to change the game when they let Jesse Crain off the hook later in that inning. While the White Sox didn’t score again, they put three runners on against Charlie Furbush before Leyland finally turned the game over to a guy with more than a month of major league service time.
Perhaps it’s the conspiracy theorist in me, but I couldn’t help but wonder if Leyland wasn’t sending a bit of a message to Dave Dombrowski.
Clearly, Leyland wasn’t the man behind the decision to bring up Ruffin and demote Lester Oliveros, you could tell that by both his pre-game comments (where he claimed he knew nothing about Ruffin) and his post-game remarks about how the organization felt Ruffin was better for the club than Oliveros was. Was Leyland using Ruffin in the way he chose to last night to prove a point to his boss? And yes, I realize that Leyland had been ejected from the game between the fifth and sixth innings, but if you think he wasn’t still calling the shots from the clubhouse, you’re naive.
Whether it was intention or not, the way the pitching staff was used and, perhaps more importantly, the pitchers that were used last night should reinforce to Dombrowski that this staff is not a finished product.
Below is a serviceable spot starter at this point and he seems to have a future in a rotation somewhere down the line. I still have no doubts that Ruffin will be an integral piece for the Tigers this year and in years to come. That said, the need for a veteran arm in the rotation is still glaring and Leyland’s use of Ruffin last night displayed his desire for another relief arm as well.
The non-waiver deadline looms just five days away. The need for a starter, and a reliever, are as strong as ever.
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