Sore lower back still an issue for Coke

Tigers to rely on lefties Hardy, Ray and Ryan to pick up slack in 'pen

Sore lower back still an issue for Coke

DETROIT -- Though Phil Coke said Friday afternoon he felt improvement in his sore lower back, the slow, cautious steps he took on his way from the Tigers' clubhouse to the training room demonstrated he wasn't nearly back to normal. For a lefty reliever who normally sprints in from the bullpen, it was an easy sign.

"He still feels it a little bit in his lower back," manager Brad Ausmus said moments later. "He's touch and go at this point."

Coke took the field for batting practice, but he went back into the clubhouse after a short while.

Coke's absence is not a trivial one. He hasn't allowed a run in 7 1/3 innings over his last eight appearances, and he has stranded 11 of 11 inherited baserunners since Aug. 10.

The Tigers have depth in lefty relief, starting with Blaine Hardy and continuing with Robbie Ray and Kyle Ryan. However, Ray and Ryan are normally starters, and Hardy has struggled with command, walking five batters over as many outings entering Friday. Hardy walked the only batter he faced Tuesday night, and the runner came around to score to whittle Detroit's lead.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.