30 April 2012
We’re still less than a month into the season, but the Tigers have already had a revolving door installed in the bullpen. Daniel Schlereth, Thad Weber, Brayan Villarreal, and Luke Putkonen have all spent part of the year in Detroit and part in Toledo (Villarreal and Putkonen are currently up). Adam Wilk was called up to replace an injured Doug Fister in the rotation, but he was sent back down after three fairly ineffective starts forcing the team to pull Duane Below out of the bullpen and into the rotation for at least one start.
All of this movement has made for a very unsettled front-end of the bullpen – a weakness that has been exacerbated by the surprising lack of offense. And even though the Tigers should have Luis Marte and Al Alburquerque both returning from injury to help solidify the relief pitching, I don’t think we’ve necessarily seen the last Mud Hen join the bullpen this season.
32 year old Chris Bootcheck is probably among the top contenders to get a shot in Detroit should the Tigers dip back into their farm system for a reliever. Bootcheck was a top-ten prospect in the Angels organization in 2000, 2001, and 2002, but now, ten years later, he’s fighting to re-start a big league career that never really got going.
His time with Detroit this year has been impressive. After allowing only one run in seven spring innings with four strikeouts and only one walk, Bootcheck was assigned to Triple-A Toledo. His impressive stretch has continued through April as one of the Mud Hen’s most reliable relievers with 12.1 innings pitched and a sparkling 1.48 ERA and 0.73 WHIP. He’s acted as Toledo’s primary closer, racking up three saves and 11 strikeouts while allowing only three walks in his nine appearances. Bootcheck’s 3.7 K/BB ratio is the best of anyone that has appeared out of the Mud Hen’s pen so far this season.
I’m always a bit leery of older players suddenly finding their stride, but he has some pretty nice numbers in his last 140 (or so) minor league innings (all in AAA since 2008). If he can continue mow down hitters in AAA, then there’s no reason why he shouldn’t get a shot to do the same in the big leagues.
Matt Snyder is the editor of The Tigers Den. He can be reached on Twitter @snyder_matthew.