Ausmus voices concern over 'pen issues

Rondon, Ryan among Tigers' relievers in early funk

Ausmus voices concern over 'pen issues

DETROIT -- The time for hand-wringing and role deliberating with the Tigers' bullpen arrived Sunday, five games and two big eighth-inning rallies into their season.

After a five-run Red Sox eighth inning Friday erased a three-run Tigers lead until Detroit rallied back, Ausmus said it would be "rash" and "idiotic" to jump to conclusions after three games. After four Red Sox runs in Sunday's eighth turned a slim Detroit lead into an eventual 7-5 Tigers loss, Ausmus made his level of concern clear.

His team refuses to quit, rallying Friday in the ninth and nearly doing the same Sunday, but the bullpen has put them in those situations.

"We've got to find someone that can pitch the seventh and eighth inning," Ausmus said.

The ninth belongs to Francisco Rodriguez, the one pitcher Ausmus identified with a set role. Bruce Rondon started the eighth with a lead Friday and Sunday and retired one batter between the two outings. He retired none of the three batters he faced Sunday, surrendering a leadoff walk to Mookie Betts and a single to Chris Young before intentionally walking red-hot Mitch Moreland with first base open to set up an out at every base with a one-run lead.

 

The risk was that it presented left-hander Kyle Ryan with no room for error facing pinch-hitter Brock Holt. Ryan allowed a leadoff walk and a hit with a three-run lead Saturday, having traveled back from Florida that morning following the birth of his first child, but escaped with a fielder's choice and a double play.

With Rondon struggling Sunday, Ryan inherited a bases-loaded jam and walked Holt on five pitches before Sandy Leon lined the next pitch through the middle for a go-ahead two-run single.

"It's not ideal," Ausmus said of loading the bases, "but it was basically the only way I thought we could get out of it with the lead."

Little about the relief setup has been ideal in recent days. On Sunday, lefty Justin Wilson -- the logical eighth-inning option besides Rondon -- was not available, having pitched an inning the previous two games. Righty Shane Greene wasn't available, either, coming off a 24-pitch inning Saturday. Rondon and Alex Wilson, who finished the seventh inning, were the right-handed options besides long reliever Anibal Sanchez.

"We've got seven guys down there, and we've got to use all of them," Ausmus said, "and at times they're going to have to perform in situations they're not used to performing in."

The key to the mix has been Rondon, who pitched well enough down the stretch last year to open the season in setup. After an up-and-down Spring Training in both velocity and results, interrupted by a stint for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic, Rondon has allowed six runs on four hits and three walks -- one intentional -- while recording four outs over three outings. He has thrown 26 of 51 pitches for strikes, not counting the intentional walk.

"His velocity has been down, and his location has not been good," Ausmus said.

Asked if Rondon could move to lower-pressure situations for a while to work things out, Ausmus said, "I'll talk to [pitching coach] Rich Dubee [on Monday], and we'll figure it out."

Asked if Rondon could return to Triple-A Toledo, Ausmus said it hasn't been discussed.

"I would discuss that internally before I discussed that with you," he said.

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.