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Tigers bullpen a glaring hole to open season

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The bats are rolling, the starters are clicking, and the bullpen is failing.

It’s no secret that the Detroit Tigers bullpen is struggling. Through the first five games of the season they have allowed 9 runs. To make it even worse, all 9 have come in the 9th inning.

That’s 9 runs on 18 hits through only 13.1 innings for the bullpen. To put that into a harsher perspective, the starters have given up 8 runs on 20 hits through 32.2 innings.

Yes, the bullpen has given up more runs and almost as many hits through less than half the innings.

Your biggest culprits have been Phil Coke, Joba Chamberlain, and Joe Nathan. They each hold a disappointing ERA that isn’t even worth mentioning.

Alright, lets mention it anyway – 81.00, 18.00, and 6.75 ERA.

Phil Coke has unfortunately picked up where he left off last season. Not as bad as an 81.00 ERA but he did have a 5.40 ERA in 2013.

When the Tigers signed Joba Chamberlain and Joe Nathan in the off-season they thought they were upgrading a bullpen that needed it.

Through the first week of baseball, the Tigers bullpen has downgraded.

Fans can only hope they’ll regain their form before the panic button is held down at full force.

Joe Nathan has a career 2.77 ERA, a 9.5 strikeout to 9 innings ratio, and is a 6-time All-Star. He is a proven arm with a track record to regain his form.

The Joba Chamberlain signing was a questionable one as he was battling injuries the past few seasons. But it could be a steal of a deal if he can return to his flame-throwing ways of 2007.

The Tigers must regain their form as the minors are not stacked with sure thing bullpen arms.

If the Tigers are looking to replace a left-handed pitcher (rhymes with Koke), there are quite a few waiting in Toledo. Robbie Ray, who came over in the Doug Fister trade this past off-season, just started his first game of the season on Sunday. He went 5 strong innings and only gave up 1 unearned run on 3 hits.

The 22-year-old is not on the 40-man roster so a move would have to eventually happen. No need to bring up Ray right away but could definitely be here before seasons end.

Kyle Lobstein is a lefty who is on the 40-man roster. He is mainly a starter but could come up and be a solid long reliever. He had a not so great spring training but a nice 2013 season in Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo. He could get the first shot if the need for a lefty arises.

Another name that Tigers fans know pretty well is Casey Crosby. He started 3 games for the Tigers in 2012 with not so great performances, bad enough that he hasn’t been up in Detroit since.

After battling injuries last season, the organization decided to move him from starter to bullpen in Triple-A Toledo. This could be his ticket back to Detroit if he can lock in his mechanics. He has great numbers against left-handed bats so could very easily fit in as the left-handed specialist in the Tigers bullpen.

The last name we will throw at you is Mike Belfiore. The 25-year-old was just claimed off waivers from the Baltimore Orioles just days ago. His major league experience is only 1 game last September. He gave up 2 homeruns in 1.1 innings of relief for the Orioles.

But he did have 37 appearances last year in Triple-A, holding a respectable 3.18 ERA and striking out 82. If he can have early success in Toledo then he is at the top of the list for early call ups.

If the Tigers feel the need for a right-handed arm then it’ll likely be Jose Ortega or Melvin Mercedes. Ortega appeared in 11 games for the Tigers early last season. He blew a save and also took 2 losses, mostly off of homeruns.

Mercedes, 23-years-old, is the long shot to be called up. The Tigers signed him when he was only 17 years old and are progressing him very slowly. He spent most of 2013 as the Double-A Erie closer, saving 12 of 15 chances.

He has pitched in 2 games for Triple-A Toledo already this season and has not disappointed. It’s not likely he’ll be called up this early but could very well be here at end of season.

Regardless of who the Tigers have brewing in the minor leagues, the answer is still in Detroit currently. Phil Coke, Joba Chamberlain, and Joe Nathan should be outperforming everyone. These are the big names of the bullpen and big is what they must be.

Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski won’t pull any triggers too quickly, he knows more than anyone that there is way too much season left. But if May hits on the calendar and these guys aren’t being big, then it might be time to see what a small can do.

Follow Matthew LaFave(@MatthewLaFave) on Twitter and subscribe for instant e-mail updates on upcoming articles.

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