Have you ever done the last part of a complicated task first? It's no way to build a house or to write a novel. But in baseball, which operates on different architecture, working backwards is how a manager constructs a bullpen. He begins knowing his closer has the ninth inning covered. From there, he can look at his remaining six relievers, consider right-handed and left-handed matchups as situations dictate, and arrange the back innings of a game after his starting pitcher has exited. It's a jigsaw puzzle that benefits enormously from having the final inning locked into place. Not having that ninth-inning piece identified is why Tigers manager Jim Leyland looked up from his office desk last week and said, with an uncomfortable grin: "This is going to get real hairy. You guys (media critics) are going to have a lot of fun." As the Tigers begin a new season today against the Twins at Target Field, Leyland has the best Tigers team of his eight seasons in Detroit. He has five strong starting pitchers and a sixth ready to go in Drew Smyly. He has perhaps the most dangerous mid-order hitting combination in baseball in Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. Bracketing Cabrera and Fielder are two hitters who weren't around in 2012: Torii Hunter and Victor Martinez. But a man regarded by his peers as being a master at running a bullpen is staring at potential trouble. Leyland realizes a relief corps minus a defined closer is a bomb waiting to explode on a team that otherwise could play in another World Series in October. And, privately, it unsettles Leyland more than anyone realizes that he will bear responsibility for how this plays out. It will be on the manager for how a bullpen sans closer functions until Bruce Rondon arrives from Triple A Toledo or his boss, Dave Dombrowski, delivers a reliever who can absorb those perilous ninth-inning outs.
Second-guessing about Tigers closer could commence immediately
Detroit News | Apr 1