Leyland might lean right with 'pen vs. lefty hitters

Leyland might lean right with 'pen vs. lefty hitters

Leyland might lean right with 'pen vs. lefty hitters
DETROIT -- Tigers manager Jim Leyland does not want to take a right-handed approach to his bullpen against left-handed hitters. If his left-handed relievers continue to struggle against lefties, though, he might be forced to do it.

It wasn't a threat from Leyland, but an admission that he might have to get creative to get the job done.

"If our lefties don't get some guys out, I'm going to have to," Leyland said, "but I'd rather not do that. I mean, that's what our lefties are down there for."

It's more of an option now that Al Alburquerque has joined Brayan Villarreal in the bullpen. Both are strikeout artists -- Alburquerque for a nasty slider that proved almost unhittable last year and looks close to form after a month in the Minors; Villarreal for a 99-mph fastball that he has commanded better now than last year.

Both have proven stingy against batters on both sides of the plate. Left-handed batters hit just .176 with 32 strikeouts in 81 plate appearances against Alburquerque last year. Entering Tuesday, lefties are hitting just .196 (10-for-51) off Villarreal, albeit with 12 walks.

By contrast, Phil Coke, Darin Downs and Drew Smyly have all struggled to retire left-handed hitters in recent days. Downs, who has been stingy against lefties since coming up to Detroit two months ago, loaded the bases Monday to set up the Indians' go-ahead rally. Smyly walked two left-handed batters and retired a right-hander Friday against the White Sox. Coke's struggles to retire lefties allowed the go-ahead run to score in the eighth inning last Tuesday at Kansas City.

Opponents are batting .392 against Coke since the All-Star break.

"We have plenty of force in the bullpen, but one thing about it: Left-handed-specialist relievers are down there to get left-handed hitters out," Leyland said. "That's their role. You have a backup catcher. You have a left-handed reliever. If you didn't need them, you wouldn't have them to start the season."