Detroit Tigers: Don’t Forget the Old Friends in the Bullpen
With all of the excitement about the new additions to the Detroit Tigers bullpen, it is easy to forget about the few remaining bullpen stars from 2015. Blaine Hardy, Alex Wilson, and Drew VerHagen were the few beams of hope that Brad Ausmus would occasionally pull from the pen and they will be back in 2016. What can fans expect to see from the bullpen “veterans” in 2016?
VerHagen, who was a reliable middle inning reliever at the end of the 2015 season, will most likely start the 2016 season with the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens. VerHagen has been with the Tigers organization since 2012 when they drafted him from Vanderbilt University. In 2015, he pitched in 26 innings and had an ERA of 2.05. His ability to create groundballs was evident in 2015 and will be a desirable commodity when the season starts. Hopefully, he spent the offseason developing a true “out” pitch and working on throwing more strikes to reduce his walks.
Hardy came onto the scene in 2014 and quickly became Ausmus’s go-to arm in late innings or any innings for that matter. Even without a lights-out fastball, Hardy is able to discombobulate batters when he’s on the mound. He did have a few troublesome innings in 2015, but he still managed to achieve a 3.08 ERA in 61.1 innings. Unfortunately, Hardy did not appear on the mound enough in 2015. It often seemed like Ausmus was saving him, but for what? Hardy has had plenty of minor league experience with both the Tigers and the Kansas City Royals affiliates. He will most likely show up in the bullpen on opening day. But, he will have to prove his worth against pitchers like Justin Wilson and Mark Lowe.
While VerHagen is more likely to induce ground balls, Hardy’s style of pitching induces more fly balls. He tends to pitch high and in on right-handed pitchers. In most cases, batters swing and miss on his high fastballs, but when he’s off, the hits are big. If his release and accuracy remain constant, Hardy will continue to make frequent appearances.
In a year that was full of disappointment, Alex Wilson was one of the most pleasant surprises of 2015. He was part of the original trade that brought Yoenis Cespedes to the Tigers. He pitched in 70 innings and had a 2.19 ERA. He, too, was not used enough by Ausmus who admitted to saving him for extra innings, even when they were not imminent. His fastball is faster than Hardy’s and he relies on the cutter to strike out batters. Don’t expect Wilson to close any more games, unless Francisco Rodriguez finds himself in a truly unfortunate position. Wilson will most likely continue to pitch in relief just like last year – when the starting pitcher is completely off of his game.
Even though these three young pitchers (they have four full seasons combined in the Major Leagues), they pitched through tough innings, closed tight games, and protected dwindling leads. Wilson was the go-to guy who came in when all hope was lost. In 2015, VerHagen closed 2 games, Hardy finished 11, and Wilson closed 16. This was in a year when highly experienced closers Joe Nathan and Joakim Soria were supposed to be shutting down hitters in the 9th innings. That valuable experience has endeared these three young arms to the Tigers fans who have had enough of bullpen dumpster fires and disappointments.
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These three pitchers are part of the Winter Caravan and TigerFest which shows the fans that Hardy, Wilson, and VerHagen are valuable pieces to the present and future Detroit teams.