ST. PETERSBURG -- The eight-man bullpen the Tigers have used for the past few weeks looked like the exception when manager Brad Ausmus went to it. It's now looking increasingly like the norm, the way the Tigers' rotation and bullpen line up.
The Tigers have had a 13-man pitching staff since mid-June, giving them eight relievers and three position bench players for most of that stretch. With no off-day next week on this three-city, 11-game road trip, they'll almost surely go into the All-Star break with that mix. With 13 consecutive games in three cities coming out of the break, they could stick with it, even with a rested relief corps.
It's not just the Tigers. Other teams are stretching their bullpens, either with an eighth reliever or by shuttling relievers to and from the Minor Leagues to keep a fresh arm for the last spot.
"I think it's definitely much more of an accepted practice now than it was," Ausmus said. "I don't even know how we'd go down to 12 [pitchers] right now. I don't see us doing it at this point. Maybe when we get to the All-Star break and people are rested, you might do it. But we had a couple long stretches without an off-day."
The goal has been to avoid wearing down key relievers going into the stretch run, as happened with Alex Wilson last year. In that sense, Ausmus has managed to keep the workload tempered, surprisingly so given Detroit's rotation struggles. The Tigers had three relievers with 37 or more appearances at the All-Star break last year, and two with 40-plus appearances at the break in 2014.
With a week to go before the break this year, the only pitcher in sight is left-hander Justin Wilson, who entered Sunday ranked 17th among American League relievers with 35 appearances. Closer Francisco Rodriguez is next on the list with 32 games. Alex Wilson had 30, not counting two appearances during his stint at Triple-A Toledo.
As a team, the Tigers entered Sunday ranked ninth among AL teams with 252 2/3 bullpen innings.
"The one thing you really have to be careful about is overusage in the bullpen," Ausmus said. "Unfortunately, there are times in the season that they do get overused in stretches, 7-10 days, and there are stretches when they get underused and starters go deeper. Guys get tired. They get up too much or throw too much."
The Tigers are waiting for that stretch when their rotation takes over and bullpen innings are saved. They could also benefit from an effective Mark Lowe, who has been limited to low-leverage appearances for the last couple weeks while he works on his mechanics.
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.