Detroit Tigers: It’s time to experiment with the bullpen

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Detroit Tigers, Gregory Soto

The Detroit Tigers and their bullpen are coming off an atrocious outing Sunday, and it’s time to start experimenting.

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On Sunday, the Tigers bullpen gave up seven runs in the ninth inning to Tampa Bay Rays. Heading into the ninth, the game had been scoreless. Detroit becomes the first team to lose by seven or more runs entering a scoreless ninth inning. This past week the bullpen, which for most of the season has been considered the lone strength of this team, combined for an ERA of 7.20. They say when it rains, it pours. Well, the Tigers bullpen seemed to be hit by a monsoon.

Following the trade that sent Michael Fulmer to the Minnesota Twins, the Detroit Tigers will look elsewhere in the eighth inning. Manager A.J. Hinch will indeed look to Jose Cisnero, Alex Lange, and Joe Jimenez to fill the void for the time being, but the Tigers need to reevaluate things and start experimenting late in ball games.

If you are looking for an abundance of Gregory Soto slander, you’ve come to the wrong place, but I am conceding to the notion that Hinch needs to look elsewhere in the ninth inning for the time being. Soto entered a 0-0 game in the ninth, allowing two hits followed by three straight walks with two outs. Sunday afternoon was nothing short of hot garbage.

Soto’s performance on Sunday was equivalent to a trash can set out at the road without a lid, steaming on the hottest day of the summer, and your place was the last pickup of the day. This spoiled what may very well be Matt Manning’s best start of his career. The young right-hander tossed seven scoreless innings, fanning seven and yielding just four hits.

Soto has only blown three saves combined over the past two years, with a save rate of 94.7% last season and 90.9% this year. Despite feeling like you’re on a roller coaster every time he pitches, he’s been effectively wild. But following Sunday’s putting where the flamethrower was charged with five earned runs, his ERA ballooned to 3.26 on the season over 38.2 innings of work. The two-time all-star also carries a 1.216 WHIP and 3.40 FIP and a WAR (Wins Above Replacement) of 0.1. Not precisely numbers you hope to see from a closer.

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If you’ve wasted endless hours watching the Detroit Tigers this season as I have, you’ve witnessed the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to Soto. About half the time when the left-hander takes the mound in the ninth, he’s lights out. The other half is split between being wildly effective but navigating out of a self-inflicted jam or not being able to locate any of his pitches and becoming the hot garbage I spoke of earlier.

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The Detroit Tigers need to experiment late in games with their bullpen over the season’s final two months.

Although I became impartial at the trade deadline when it came to whether or not the Detroit Tigers should trade Gregory Soto or not, or for that matter, any of their pieces that had term remaining, admittingly, that was because I had lost all hope in general manager Al Avila.

I was okay with moving Michael Fulmer and Robbie Grossman, understanding both are set to become unrestricted free agents following the season. I did not trust Avila would garner acceptable returns in any potential deal he’d make sending Tarik Skubal, Soto, Jimenez, or Lange elsewhere.

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Looking at this mess created by Avila, the new GM will have their work cut out for them rebuilding the rebuild. I hope Christopher Ilitch will do the right thing after the season and fire Avila. Hopefully, we can have confidence in the new general manager to turn assets into future assets if the Tigers continue rebuilding.

I would like to see Hinch revert back to the ‘closer by committee’ route for the remainder of the season. I wouldn’t entirely give up on Soto, but moving him to the seventh inning for a few days wouldn’t be the worst idea. Soto could use time to clear his head and work on his command. Hinch should look to play the matchup game with a combination of Jimenez, Lange, and Cisnero over the next week or so.

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I’ve said in the past that Lange, 26, appears to be the closer of ‘the future’ for this club, and there is no time like the present to try him out in the ninth inning. Lange owns a 2.98 FIP with a 3.14 ERA over 43 innings. Again, certainly not lights out closer numbers, but his stuff is closer material. Lange currently has a WAR of 0.7 to go with a strikeout rate of 11.93/9IP.

Jimenez has pitched to a 3.40 ERA striking out 60 over 42.1 innings. That’s good for a career-best 12.8 strikeouts per 9 innings. Jimenez also owns a stellar FIP of 1.98 and a 1.087 WHIP on the season. The 27-year-old has seen his fair share of ups and downs in a Tigers’ uniform, but 2022 has been his most consistent season, and we should see more high-leverage appearances from Jimenez down the stretch.

The 33-year-old Cisnero has only appeared in seven games this season due to injury and is still getting his feet wet. An elevated 4.17 FIP skews his 1.35 ERA. The veteran right-hander is best utilized in the sixth and seventh innings until he can prove that he’s returned to form and has shaken off the rust.

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Posted by Bob Heyrman
Bob currently serves as the Editorial Director at Detroit Sports Nation. Bob's writing is comparable to the third starter in a rotation. Sometimes he throws junk that finds the barrel of the bat and gets smacked over the fence, but the odd time he can toss a complete game shutout. Bob is a passionate lifelong Detroit sports fan. Bob loves the city and can often be found downtown taking in a sporting event or a cold beverage at a local watering hole.