Al Alburquerque, Brunce Rondon Key To Success For Detroit Tigers


The Detroit Tigers’ bullpen is a hot topic among fans and critics everywhere. It’s not unusual either. The 4.29 ERA posted in the 2014 campaign was only better than the Chicago White Sox. The bullpen needs help.

Though it is pretty terrible Dave Dombrowski hasn’t been completely idle. There hasn’t been any flashy Andrew Miller-type signings but Dombrowski is doing exactly what he needs to do to fix the bullpen.

But what about the pitchers already in the bullpen?

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As of now the Tigers are looking at a combination of Joe Nathan, Joakim Soria, Al Alburquerque, and Bruce Rondon as seemingly the only locks so far. Blaine Hardy also pitched surprisingly well last year. Jim Johnson has moved on. And both Phil Coke and Joba Chamberlain are free agents. The Tigers will also lean on one of the rookies from last year, presumably the loser of the 5th starter battle.

Though there is still a lot of the off-season to solidify the bullpen the current locks will have to pull their weight.

Nobody knows what to expect out of Nathan. After a superb 2013 season he fell apart in 2014. His command wasn’t there with an unexpected 4.5 BB/9IP. His WHIP was at a staggering 1.53 as he allowed too many baserunners on.

Soria was a mid-season acquisition last year. Though Tigers fan remember the horrible outings from Soria, he’s actually a very good pitcher. Probably the best pitcher in the bullpen now. His time with the Tigers only lasted a mere 11 IP but an uncomfortable 4.91 ERA.

Though the Tigers have two (previously) established pitchers in Nathan and Soria (though the verdict isn’t out for Soria yet), the two most intriguing cases are Alburquerque and Rondon.

Very quietly Alburquerque was one of the best if not the best pitcher in the bullpen for the Tigers in 2014. He had a 2.51 ERA in 57.1 IP. The fact that he wasn’t used in the ALDS against the Baltimore Orioles was probably the least highlighted mismanagement by Brad Ausmus.

The most exciting part about Alburquerque’s game is his slider. A legitimate swing-and-miss pitch the slider has defined his career so far.

His biggest jump came this season too. Plagued with control issues in his first 3 season he cut down his BB/9IP to 3.3. He even kept his solid strikeout numbers at a more-than-respectable 9.9 K/9IP. Alburquerque being rock solid in 2015 will go a long way in Dombrowski’s attempt to fix the bullpen.

Aug 7, 2013; Cleveland, OH, USA; Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Bruce Rondon (43) reacts in the ninth inning against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Then there’s Rondon. Before the start of the 2013 season Dombrowski was relying upon him to be a key part of the bullpen going forward. Unfortunately for the Tigers and their bullpen Rondon had an up and down season. He had a solid August and September but it was plagued with injury problems again.

With the promise he showed near the end of the season Dombrowski expected him to be a key contributor again in the 2014 season. Rondon couldn’t be a contributor as he had season-ending surgery in March.

For the second straight season Dombrowski relied on Rondon too much. It would be unwise again for Dombrowski to center the bullpen around Rondon. At this point going forward the Tigers will need to expect little from Rondon after the last two seasons.

For the 2015 season, the Tigers’ bullpen does have potential. In Alburquerque and Rondon they have key pieces going forward. However, these unexpected pieces to the puzzle will need contribute to maximize their talents. They have the youth and potential to do so.

Now, your thoughts. Do you think Rondon will stay healthy for the entire season? Or will he become the next Joel Zumaya? How will Alburquerque fair? Will he go back to issuing walks at an alarming rate or has he turned the corner?