"Fire Jim Leyland!" "Send Todd Jones to AAA!" Those were some of the comments made on the MLive Detroit Tigers Forum following Friday night's devastating 12-11 loss to the Cleveland Indians, where the Indians scored 5 9th inning runs off of Tigers closer Todd Jones (after scoring two in the eighth) to send the Tigers to their seventh loss in eight contests, and their fifth to the Indians in the past week, giving Cleveland a 4.5 game lead in the AL Central. Needless to say, things are a mess right now for the defending American League champions. Carlos Guillen is out. Brandon Inge is out. So are Fernando Rodney, Joel Zumaya, Kenny Rogers, and Vance Wilson. But none of that mattered going into the ninth inning Friday night. Or so it seems to Tigers fans. But the blown save, Jones' second consecutive blown save, has everything to do with the problems (injury and otherwise) the Tigers are facing right now.
The reason why the Detroit Tigers lost Friday night (aside, of course, from Jones giving up a home run to Victor Martinez then two more runs after that) was because Jones pitched in the eighth inning. With Zumaya and Rodney out, and Jose Mesa unable to get anybody out, manager Jim Leyland has been forced to mix-and-match in his bullpen, and the results have not been pretty. Wil Ledezma pitched a perfect seventh inning, and got two outs in the eighth, but then he gave up a double, and single, putting runners on the corners for the Indians. With no Joel Zumaya and no Fernando Rodney, Leyland went to his closer, Todd Jones. Big mistake.
Jones pitched in the eighth inning only three times last season, blowing two saves in the process. While Jones is a dependable closer (despite of the ugly and often heart-wrenching way he closes games) he has his limitations. One of them is that he can't pitch more than one inning. He's proven that. But with the Tigers bullpen in shambles, he was asked to come in early tonight. He allowed two runners to score in the eighth, then, unfortunately for him (but in what otherwise was a productive top of the ninth for the Tigers) had to wait over twenty minutes to pitch in the bottom of the ninth, as the Tigers scored 2 runs in the top of the frame, giving them a 4 run lead going into the last third of an inning.
Then Jones collapsed after getting one out in the ninth. Single. Walk. 3-run home run. A double. An intentional walk. A single. Then the game winning single. There's a reason why Todd Jones doesn't pitch for more than one inning.
Yet, I don't blame Jim Leyland or Todd Jones for tonight's loss. Yes, Jones has limitations. But they are well known. And yes, Jim Leyland knows about Jones' limitations and pushed anyway. But he had no other choice. The truth of the matter is, with the bullpen the way it is, Jim Leyland has to take some chances. And while you can yell that Bobby Seay should have come into the game in the ninth, Seay has not been very good lately. Nobody in the Tigers bullpen has. So you go with who, right now, is your most dependable pitcher. And you ask him to do something he doesn't normally do because you have to. And you learn, he can't do it. And you move on.
I wrote last week that starter Chad Durbin should be moved to the bullpen because he's pitched so well, he could really strengthen the pen. I think now, more than ever, such a bold move is necessary, before the team implodes in on itself under the weight of their injuries. The signing of Troy Percival is likely also a necessity, even if that means overpaying (again) for the former closer who couldn't stay healthy his first time in Detroit, and who has no guarantees that he won't find his way to the DL again. The Tigers have to take some chances right now, because, they can't get it done right now with the group they have. And with Maroth, and Nate Robertson, struggling in the rotation, and their bullpen in shambles, they won't win. They scored 11 runs Friday and lost. That tells you all you need to know right there.
Had Joel Zumaya or Fernando Rodney been healthy tonight, the Detroit Tigers win, without question. Todd Jones doesn't have to pitch the eighth, doesn't have to sit and wait for the ninth, and isn't out of gas when he needs it most. But, the Tigers didn't have those players tonight. And the players they did have in their pen weren't good enough to get the job done themselves. That's not Jim Leyland's fault. And it's not Todd Jones' fault. It's just one of those things that happens over a 162 game baseball season.