Detroit Tigers: Same Old Bullpen vs. NYY

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Mar 2, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Drew VerHagen (54) talks with catcher Bryan Holaday and pitching coach Rich Dubee (52) at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 2, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Drew VerHagen (54) talks with catcher Bryan Holaday and pitching coach Rich Dubee (52) at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /
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The wrong Detroit Tigers game was televised today. Instead of the game that displayed the same old disappointing bullpen, the game in Bradenton should have aired.

If fans were hoping the 2016 Detroit Tigers had a bullpen that was no longer a lead-killing disaster, the televised game against the New York Yankees did not provide any comfort. In the game at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, the Detroit bullpen was classic Tigers. Classically disappointing.

Ashes from the 2015 dumpster fire sparked a new blaze.

Mike Pelfrey pitched three hitless innings. He was helped by a five-run second inning highlighted by a grand slam from Bryan Holaday and a beautiful Ian Kinsler home run in the third. Then, Pelfrey had to hand the ball over to the jokers in the bullpen.

Welcome to the Tigers, Pelfrey – better get used to it.

Only in Detroit could a seven-run lead fall apart. Only with bullpen pitchers from 2015.

If Spring Training games are a sign of what is to come in the regular season, then fans are in for an extremely uncomfortable roller coaster ride. Over in Bradenton, Buck Farmer did well starting for the Tigers and even Bruce Rondon pitched well. In Tampa, the shame belongs to Drew VerHagen and Blaine Hardy – stalwarts from 2015. The guys the team could usually count on for success.

Aug 23, 2015; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus (7) takes the ball to relieve pitcher Blaine Hardy (65) in the eighth inning against the Texas Rangers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 23, 2015; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus (7) takes the ball to relieve pitcher Blaine Hardy (65) in the eighth inning against the Texas Rangers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports /

In the game against the Yankees, VerHagen took over the mound at the beginning of the fourth. At the time, the Tigers were ahead 7-0. What seemed like an insurmountable lead by the Tigers was quickly demolished as VerHagen allowed the Starlin Castro to reach first. Then, Brian McCann doubled and Mark Teixeira walked. VerHagen, who usually looks so calm and cool on the mound, was anything but. The next batter, Aaron Hicks, singled and the Yankees scored their first run.

Smartly, VerHagen was removed and replaced by Blaine Hardy. Fans should have been able to relax and watch Hardy get the last two outs. Nope. Didn’t happen.

Instead, Dustin Ackley hits a double and two more runs scored. The dumpster fire that was the 2015 bullpen reared its ugly head. After the damage was done, Hardy did get the third out with a pop-up from Aaron Judge.

After providing the majority of offense in the first three innings, the Yankees dominated the next three. In the fifth, Hardy walked the first batter (of course), then allows the next Yankee to hit a double. Then, Didi Gregorius ground out, allowing the first batter (Ben Gamel) to score. And, Starlin Castro doubles to let another Yankee score. This was not the Blaine Hardy fans were accustomed to seeing.

You get the picture. Eventually, the Tigers were behind 8-7.

Mar 2, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; Detroit Tigers left fielder Steven Moya (33) works out prior to the game at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 2, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; Detroit Tigers left fielder Steven Moya (33) works out prior to the game at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Then, in the 9th inning, the offense arrived in the form of Steven Moya. Jason Krizan hit a ground-rule double as the first batter of the inning. Then, Moya walked up to the plate and hit a monster home run to bring the score to 9-8. Moya oozed confidence at the plate – the home run was about as predictable as a Michigan snowstorm in February.

But, if the bullpen could not protect a seven-run lead, a one-run lead certainly not safe. The Tigers put Joe Mantiply on the mound and, of course, the Yankees’ lead-off batter hits a triple so Austin Romine (Andrew’s brother) knocked him in with a ground ball tying the game. The winning run was scored off of an error from Jason Krizan leaving fans shaking their heads and having flashbacks to the bullpen nightmares of 2015 (and ’14, ’13, ’12, …)

Over in Bradenton, the Tigers went into the ninth inning with a 10-1 lead. Minor league pitcher Adam Ravenelle was a fish out of water in this game. He allowed a lead-off walk, then a single. His third batter reached on an error. Then, Ravenelle walked the next two batters. Maybe the coaches were watching the Yankees game, because they quickly yanked Ravenelle and replaced him with Gabe Hemmer who struck out his first two batters. The final out was a popup to JaCoby Jones in left.

I understand that the spring games are spring games, but all of the pitching staff is under the microscope. If the experienced bullpen pitchers (I’m looking at you, VerHagen and Hardy) cannot show the rookies how to get the job done, what will happen during the regular season games. Today seemed like a lesson in opposite day, the three pitchers that were expected to be shaky (Pelfrey, Farmer, and Rondon) were anything but. The two that usually exceed expectations did not.

Next: Victor Martinez Shines in First Exhibition Game

It was a strange day in Detroit-Tiger-land. Is it time to invest in fire extinguishers? Possibly.

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