Detroit Tigers’ Joba Chamberlain continues to struggle

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Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus might be in denial over more than just Joe Nathan.

Fellow relief pitcher Joba Chamberlain has made four appearances this spring and hasn’t pitched an inning without allowing a hit. In four innings, Chamberlain has allowed seven hits, four runs and three walks with no strikeouts, yet Ausmus continues to brush aside his rough start.

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“Joba was kind of like this a little bit in spring training last season,” Ausmus said according to MLive.com. “His velocity was a little bit lower. All the sudden, you get in the game in the regular season and it jumps up to 95 mph.”

Ausmus went on to explain that Chamberlain, like many relief pitchers, feeds off of adrenaline and does better when the pressure is higher.

At this point, Tigers fans are growing tired of all the talk about how good the bullpen can be; they would just like the relief pitchers to go out and do their jobs.

As much as one can blame Nathan, Chamberlain and others in the Tigers bullpen for their own struggles, General Manager Dave Dombrowski should receive partial blame. His idea of building a bullpen is acquiring the biggest names and stringing them next to each other late in games.

A much better strategy would to build a bullpen the way Oakland, Kansas City or Pittsburgh have done it, but that argument is for another time.

Ausmus has no say in how the bullpen is assembled, but denying there is a problem only makes it worse.

Clearly one cannot completely blame his slow Spring Training on a lack of pressure. In two postseason appearances against Baltimore last October, Chamberlain recorded just one out, allowing five earned runs. That’s good for a laughable 108.0 ERA.

Chamberlain wasn’t just bad in the postseason either. He posted a 4.97 ERA after the All-Star break a season ago. That was over two runs higher than his first half ERA, which was 2.63.

The first half ERA, however, is a bit misleading. Chamberlain only had one month with an ERA below 3.00 in 2014. During May, he posted a 1.38 ERA which helped offset his 4.35 ERA in April, 3.48 ERA in June and 3.60 ERA in July. From that perspective, Chamberlain’s 2014 season can be summed up not as two polarizing halves, but an above average first half with one exceptional month, a below average second half and a terrible postseason.

The one exceptional month being the outlier.

It is becoming a common theme with Ausmus to simply brush aside his relief pitchers’ struggles and point to a moment in their career where they were good and say they could return to that.

But what if they don’t.

As Motor City Bengals co-editor Matt Pelc pointed out in his column Monday, Nathan hasn’t been good in 18 months. Chamberlain hasn’t looked real sharp since last June and really only pitched well in a month or two last season. How big of a sample size must Ausmus see before these pitchers are no longer working through a slump but are actually not that good anymore?

Managers supporting players is one thing, but Ausmus’ unwavering support of Nathan and Chamberlain makes Detroit feel as if neither will be held accountable for their poor performances.

Tigers fans likely realized a long time ago the bullpen is not going to be a strength. It would just be nice if the team would stop acting like it isn’t a weakness.

Next: What should be expected from Bruce Rondon

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