A series win against the Minnesota Twins put the Detroit Tigers in good spirits as they returned home from the longest road trip of the season to finish up a tough stretch of 20 consecutive games without a day off.
Jim Leyland called the stretch gruesome, but his team’s performance was anything but. The bullpen was a highlight of the first month of the 2010 season and here’s a look at why.
Detroit pen one of league’s best — How good has the Detroit bullpen been? Through the first 22 games of the year they led the American League in innings pitched (78), victories (8) and ERA (2.48).
Not bad for a group that some thought might be the club’s weakness going into the season.
Jose Valverde converted six of his seven save opportunities in that span and the combination of Phil Coke, Joel Zumaya, Ryan Perry and Fu-Te Ni was terrific in the late innings.
Fans are familiar with Zumaya, Perry and Ni, but they might not be with Coke. The former New York Yankees reliever came to Detroit as part of the Curtis Granderson deal and continues to be an innings eater.
“He’s a trooper,” Leyland said. “He takes the ball and he wants the ball.”
He led all rookies with 72 appearances last season and is on pace to reach that mark again this year. He is tied for second in the league with 12 appearances in April (13 innings) and has only given up two earned runs.
“He’s done an excellent job,” Leyland said. “He can take the ball and he can take the ball a lot. I’d like to just put him in one inning and not put him back out there, but I haven’t had much choice so far.”
Leyland said when the starting rotation heats up he will continue to use Coke as often, but not for as long in each appearance.
Jackson’s punch-outs not a problem — Austin Jackson strikes out a lot, but Jim Leyland doesn’t see that as a problem…yet.
“I don’t think he came into this season thinking all of a sudden he wasn’t go to strike out again,” Leyland said. “He struck out a lot last year in Triple A, so this is one those nurse-him- along kind of deals.”
Jackson struck out a little less than one time every four at-bats in the minors and in 22 games at the major league level he’s on pace for similar numbers (with one game remaining in April he had 32 strikeouts in 94 at-bats).
The 23-year-old’s other numbers have been so good to start the season — 10 multi-hit games, .322 batting average and nine extra base hits — that Leyland doesn’t want him to start second-guessing his approach.
“Everybody starts getting in his head about strikeouts, a manager can’t do that,” Leyland explained. “The thing about that is then he starts nursing his swings and you don’t want that. I think he’s doing great.”
Rounding the Bases —
• First — Johnny Damon reached base safely 18 games in a row from April 10 to April 28, during that span he hit .383 and had an on-base percentage of .500 (highest in the major leagues).
• Second — Detroit hit a lot of doubles in April. Going into the final day of the month they were leading the American League with 62 of them (the most hit by a Tigers team in April in over 50 years).
• Third — Joel Zumaya’s velocity is right where it used to be. The hard-throwing right hander has 14 strikeouts in 12 innings (through April 30) and against the Texas Rangers on April 24 tied his career high with five strikeouts in one appearance.
• Home — Last week it was 1,000 runs, this week Magglio Ordonez reached 2,000 career hits. Ordonez crossed the mark with a single in the fourth inning against the Twins on April 29.
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