Friday, 1 July 2011

Time running out for Phil Coke to keep spot in Tigers' rotation

Coke.jpgAP PhotoPhil Coke needs to immediately prove he can be an effective starter, or he will be back in the bullpen

Phil Coke has gone from hard luck to no luck. 

In his first nine starts of the year, Coke allowed four or more earned runs only twice.  Through that stretch he had a respectable ERA of just 3.80, but the lack of run support from his teammates left him a dismal 1-5.

Then he hurt his foot in the fourth inning of a win over Tampa Bay and was placed on the Disabled List.

Since coming off the DL, Coke has allowed at least four earned runs in three of his four starts.

I would say Coke's problem prior to his stint on the DL was 60-percent team, 40-percent Phil.  Unfortunately, that number has shifted to 90-10, and it's not in Coke's favor.

The sad thing for Coke is that if the team had done a better job behind him earlier in the season and gotten him a few more wins, this recent hiccup could have been overlooked.  However, since he is now 1-7 instead of 4-4, the view through the microscope is much more intense.

What all this means for Coke is that his leash is about as long as an unlit Jim Leyland cigarette.  And we all know those don't stay unlit for long.  Coke cannot have another poor performance - not one - or he will be demoted back to the bullpen.

It's probably unfair for me to call it a "demotion."

Last year Coke was a darn good relief pitcher, and if he ends up back in that role again, it will be as much recognition of his quality coming out of that spot as it is pointing out his shortcomings as a starter.  Well, it might be a little bit more of the latter, but you get my point.

In 2010, Coke threw 64.2 innings in 74 appearances for Detroit, with only one of those a start.  His ERA was 3.76, which would be the fifth best in the bullpen this year behind only Al Albuquerque, David Purcey, Jose Valverde and Charlie Furbush.

Of course, one of those pitchers would have to replace Coke in the starting rotation, and the obvious choice to get his shot is Furbush.

furbush.jpgAP PhotoCharlie Furbush will move into the starting lineup if Phil Coke falters again

He's been spot-on out of the bullpen since getting called up May 21.  In 21.2 innings in 12 appearances, Furbush has allowed only 18 hits and six earned runs.  It's not all sunshine and roses, with Furbush giving up nine walks and six home runs, but he has certainly shown enough to get his shot if Coke loses his starting spot.

That becomes even more obvious when you take into account Furbush's work as a starter in the minors this year before coming to Detroit.

In 46.1 innings, Furbush had a fantastic 2.91 ERA with 55 strikeouts and opponents batting just .179 against him.  Furbush threw two complete games and, possibly most important, he only got rocked once. 

So this is the deal for Phil Coke:  turn it around now, and don't falter once.  The second you show a crack, Charlie Furbush is waiting.

Good luck, Phil.

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