Wilson to replace K-Rod as Tigers' closer

Wilson to replace K-Rod as Tigers' closer

PHOENIX -- Francisco Rodriguez is out and Justin Wilson is in as closer, Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said on Tuesday, hours prior to his club opening a two-game Interleague series against the D-backs at Chase Field.

Ausmus made the move after the veteran right-hander blew saves on Saturday and Sunday in Oakland as the Tigers lost both games to the A's.

K-Rod now has four blown saves in 11 opportunities and the 16-year veteran has an 8.49 ERA. Right now, there's no timetable for his return to the closer role.

Statcast™ metrics tell completely different stories when it comes to the fastballs of Rodriguez and Wilson this season. Rodriguez has lost over 1 mph of velocity on his four-seam fastball from last year, and has seen his ground ball rate drop from 46 percent in 2016 to just 26 percent this season. Subsequently, opposing batters have posted a .368 average against the pitch. Meanwhile, opponents have gone just 1-for-28 (.036) against Wilson's four-seamer in 2017.

"For right now and for the time being we're going to go ahead use [Wilson] to close out games," Ausmus said. "Hopefully we'll get Frankie back into some softer situations, get his command back. Get his stuff back to where it was. Justin Wilson has been our most consistent reliever all year. To me, it's a no-brainer."

Rodriguez has walked five and struck out 13 in 11 2/3 innings. He has seven saves, but opposing hitters are batting .352 off him and his WHIP is 2.06. Last season, he recorded 44 saves and had a 3.24 ERA in 61 appearances.

The left-handed Wilson, in stark contrast, has a 1.32 ERA in 15 outings, all in a setup role. He has 22 strikeouts and four walks, an 0.59 WHIP and opponents are hitting .087 against him.

"There are use limitations," Ausmus said about how much he can pitch Wilson. "I don't really like throwing him in more than a couple of games in a row unless pitch counts are real low. I think that will preserve him over the course of the season.

"Ideally, I'd like to get Frankie into a few games where he can work on some stuff. If he does that and Justin's thrown a couple of days in a row I might go back to Frankie that third day to close if need be."

Wilson has had two saves in his career, one coming this year against the Red Sox during the first week of the season.

Wilson's first save of 2017

Rodriguez, 35, has 437 saves in his career, the most among active pitchers and fourth on the all-time list behind Mariano Rivera (652), Trevor Hoffman (601) and Lee Smith (478).

Ausmus, a big league catcher for 18 seasons, said that he told Rodriguez about the move in a 3 p.m. PT clubhouse meeting on Tuesday and said the pitcher "took it great."

"It wasn't an easy decision in the sense that Frankie has a long track record," Ausmus said. "He's one of the best closers in the history of the game. It's not easy to tell a guy who's been so good at something for so long that you're taking him out of that role for the time being. But this might not be a permanent change if things turn around."

Fantasy spin | Fred Zinkie (@FredZinkieMLB)
Most mixed-league owners should drop Rodriguez -- who posted a marginal 3.83 FIP last season before running into significant troubles this year -- and head to the waiver wire to add Wilson. Having posted a 1.32 ERA, a 0.59 WHIP and a 14.5 K/9 rate this season, the southpaw is consistently demonstrating the elite skill set that translates to ninth-inning success. Wilson has also produced balanced splits throughout his career, proving that he is capable of being more than a specialist against same-sided batters.

Zinkie on K-Rod situation

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.