Friday, 1 July 2011

Detroit Tigers move Phil Coke to the bullpen, promote Charlie Furbush to starting rotation

furbush.jpgAP PhotoCharlie Furbush will take Phil Coke's place in the Detroit Tigers' rotation.DETROIT -- The Phil Coke experiment in the Detroit Tigers’ pitching rotation has ended.

Coke will return to a bullpen role after a half-season as a starter, with Charlie Furbush moving into the starting rotation.

Whether Furbush is the long-term answer remains to be seen. Tigers manager Jim Leyland is hopeful — he has said recently that the 25-year-old rookie has starter’s stuff -- but noncommittal.

What is certain is Coke (1-8, 4.91) wasn’t pitching well, and had regressed since a May 23 ankle sprain put him on the disabled list.

"I don’t know what’s going to happen with Furbush," Leyland said. "But I’m smart enough to know, right now, it wasn’t working with Phil."

Furbush will start Monday against the Los Angeles Angels in Anaheim.

"I’ve been a starter my whole career," Furbush said, "so I’m just going to do the same thing I’ve always done as a starter and get back in that routine."

Coke, who Wednesday night said he would understand if he went to the bullpen, saying he was at the team’s "beck and call," was agitated by the questioning, moreso than the decision, when asked about the move Thursday, one day after he pitched four innings, allowing 10 hits and eight runs (seven earned) in a 16-9 loss to the New York Mets.

It marked the third consecutive game Coke did not last beyond the fifth inning.

"I wouldn’t want to be the next guy I face," Coke said.

The Tigers will be fully staffed in the bullpen today and Saturday, but not for Friday’s opener of a three-game series against the San Francisco Giants, because Furbush won’t be allowed to pitch in relief after today, and Coke won’t be available until Saturday, Leyland said.

Coke took some tough-luck losses early in the season, including twice when he made quality starts. He also pitched seven shutout innings in a no-decision at Boston.

In his next start after that game, Coke sprained his ankle while attempting to field a bunt against Tampa Bay, was forced to leave the game, then went on the disabled list.

He struggled in four of five starts since returning from the injury.

"Before that ankle thing, he was pitching pretty well," Leyland said. "But I don’t know that that’s the answer. I don’t know if that’s the reason."

Coke said it wasn’t.

"I’m not 100-percent happy because I am giving everything I’ve got and I’m coming up short and it looks really bad — my ERA, my record, whatever, walks to strikeouts," Coke said. "Who cares what the numbers say, before or after? It doesn’t matter. I’m giving everything I’ve got and I’m coming up short. Period."

Coke probably will return to much the same role he occupied last season, as a predominantly sixth- and seventh-inning reliever, Leyland said.

Coke pitched well in that role last year, when he was 7-5 with two saves and a 3.76 ERA in 74 appearances. But his success was much spottier as a starter, and Leyland said he probably wouldn’t work in that role again this season.

Leyland said Coke seemed "a little jittery" early in the season, then found a groove, but lately has been "a little more frustrated."

"That’s the thing that sticks out to me," Leyland said.

The Tigers put Coke in the rotation in spring training, even though he had started only once in 158 major-league appearances.

"Our thought process all along was let’s give this a shot, because we don’t really have some other guys ready yet, so let’s give this a shot," Leyland said. "Going in, that’s what we were thinking. Let’s get to the halfway point and let’s see what it is. Here’s the halfway point and it wasn’t working. So we’re making the adjustments."

Leyland said Coke’s response to the change "can go two ways."

"It can be just like going home for him, everything’s fine," Leyland said. "Or it could be, you know, ‘I’m disappointed, I let people down.’ Who knows? I don’t know the answer to that. But it’s the right thing to do right now."
Overworked bullpen forces moves
The adjustment to the starting rotation seemed to complete a whirlwind of activity with Tigers pitchers -- at least until they determine whether Furbush, or someone else, can start well enough to keep them out of the trade market during July -- but the move late Wednesday to send Daniel Schlereth to Triple-A Toledo, and recall Brayan Villarreal, was unanticipated until after the blowout was complete.

The Tigers simply found themselves overworked in the bullpen, where all their relievers except setup man Joaquin Benoit and closer Jose Valverde pitched either Tuesday or Wednesday, when the Mets scored 30 total runs.

"There were no plans to make any pitching changes," before Wednesday’s game, Leyland said. "Absolutely none. We just got stuck in a bind and that’s the way it is."

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