DETROIT -- A Major League bullpen can be like a lineup in the sense that different parts within it can go hot and cold at different times. It can be different, Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said, in that it's more difficult to move pieces around in a bullpen when a reliever goes cold than when a hitter does. That presents a difficult spot for the Tigers with lefty Justin Wilson.
A few weeks ago, Wilson was the bright spot in a Detroit bullpen that was looking like the strength of the team. His 11 consecutive scoreless innings to begin the year -- eight hits allowed, two walks and 15 strikeouts -- made him look like the shrewdest acquisition of general manager Al Avila's first offseason in charge.
Wilson's run ran through May 1. In eight outings since then, he has allowed 10 runs (nine earned) on 11 hits over six innings with a walk and seven strikeouts, including a three-run eighth inning Saturday that turned a 5-1 Tigers lead into a one-run game before closer Francisco Rodriguez finished it off.
It's about as stark of a turn as one can get in a bullpen, and the Tigers are trying to figure it out.
"The last couple of weeks, he's been real good or not real good," manager Brad Ausmus said. "It's more location, because his stuff looks fine. I think in the long haul, it's not going to be an issue."
Wilson is actually throwing harder now than he did in April. His average fastball velocity of 96.49 mph in May is essentially a full mile per hour up from his average in April, according to brooksbaseball.net, while the velocity on his other pitches is up as well. The average movement on his pitches hasn't changed drastically, either, according to data.
Long story short, he's paying dearly for mistakes. Nearly half of the pitches put in play against him this month have gone for base hits, compared to a .333 BABIP in April.
Wilson's struggles come at a time when the Tigers have only one other left-hander in their bullpen. While Kyle Ryan has entered in earlier lefty situations, Blaine Hardy is getting back up to speed with work at Triple-A Toledo. But simply flipping roles for a bit isn't an option; Wilson's track record against righties and lefties alike make him less of a specialist and more of a true eighth-inning reliever.
"If things aren't working in the bullpen, it's tough to put a guy in a spot he's never pitched before," Ausmus said. "It's a lot easier to take a guy that's hitting fifth and stick him in the two-hole than it is to take a guy who's pitching the sixth inning and stick him in the ninth, or the eighth."
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.