26 April 2012
Adam Wilk was optioned to Triple-A Toledo following last night’s loss to the Mariners. Wilk performed as advertised as a high-control and low-strikeout pitcher (2.5 BB/9 and 5.7 K/9), but it seemed like every mistake pitch ended up in the seats. Wilk allowed four home runs in only 11.0 innings this season, brining his major league career total up to seven in 24.1 innings.
I don’t think it’s time to give up on Wilk’s future as an MLB pitcher, but he’s going to need to eliminate the mistake pitches that float up in the zone over the plate if he’s going to straighten out his home run issue. I don’t think he has the repertoire to survive in a major league starting rotation, but I still like him potentially in a long relief or spot starter role, just not quite yet.
So our attention now moves to his possible replacement. I think there are really only four names worth throwing into the mix (five actually, but Doug Fister probably won’t be ready to return in four days): Jacob Turner, Andy Oliver, Casey Crosby, and Duane Below. They’re the same guys that were in the rotation conversation to begin camp.
Andy Oliver is the next minor league name to consider. He at least has a few big league starts to his name, but he’s shown his familiar warning signs in the early going with the Toledo Mud Hens. The strikeout numbers are great as always – 22 in 20.1 innings – but his walk totals are just as high – he’s issued 21 free passes already. It’s also scary to consider that his 5.31 ERA has been achieved on the heels of a .255 BABIP. I think the Tigers will take a pass on Oliver.
Casey Crosby would be one of my top candidates for a one game spot start. His ERA (5.00) and WHIP (1.72) numbers aren’t that great in 18 innings at Toledo, but the secondary numbers show he’s probably pitched a bit better than that. He’s been strong in the strikeout department (8.0 K/9) and he hasn’t benefitted at all from the .345 BABIP opposing batters have hit against him. His walk rate is a bit high (5.0 BB/9) which would be a concern at the major league level, but his 3.71 FIP doesn’t scare me away. Still, his numbers don’t scream ‘PICK ME!’
Duane Below has the most experience of the bunch, and looks to me to be the preferred candidate. Jim Leyland has stated that he would like to keep Below in his current role, but with Fister (hopefully) nearing his return Below might not need to be out of place very long. Leyland and the Tigers may attempt to get through the next four days by using only Collin Balester, Brayan Villarreal (who was recalled last night when Wilk was sent down), and today’s call-up Luke Putkonen in the early-to-middle innings to save Below for the next start. That shouldn’t be too much of a problem considering they’re now carrying four starters and an extra reliever.
Below had a six inning, 68 pitch outing over the weekend, so he should be fine to give the team five innings (barring a high pitch count). And that’s probably all you would expect from Crosby anyway. So that’s what I would do. I’d plan on using Below as a starter next Monday versus Kansas City, unless he’s absolutely needed in relief this weekend against New York. In that case, I’d give the one-game nod to Crosby.
Matt Snyder is the editor of The Tigers Den. He can be reached on Twitter @snyder_matthew.