Detroit Tigers surprising bullpen has 5th best ERA in baseball

The bullpen was the Detroit Tigers’ Achilles heel during the club’s golden age last decade.

From the Grand Slam surrendered by Joaquin Benoit in Game 2 of the 2013 ALCS in Boston, to the constant search for a reliable closer, it was breath-holding time in the late innings.

It has been quite the opposite so far in 2022.

“Everybody is just doing their part and that’s credit to (manager) AJ (Hinch) and (pitching coach Chris) Fetter,” reliever Michael Fulmer said Sunday. “They put guys in the right situations that put them in position for the best chance to succeed.

“They both do a good job of over-communicating to us saying ‘hey, you could be used in the sixth, could be used in the ninth … if these guys come up, this is your part of the order and we’ re going to need you to get these big outs here. ‘”

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Tigers pitching coach Chris Fetter talks with pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez, center, during the Tigers' 5-3 loss to the Yankees on Wednesday, April 20, 2022 at Comerica Park.

The early returns have been promising. Through 14 games and 61⅓ innings pitched, the Tigers’ bullpen ERA is 2.35, the fifth best mark in baseball. The team also ranks in the top 10 in WHIP (1.09) and WAR (0.7).

Compare that to 2021, when Detroit’s bullpen ERA, 4.50, ranked 22nd.

“The players are the ones who have to do it on the field, our job is to prepare them and communicate with them on what the expectations are,” Hinch said. “The pitch execution has been good, the pitch selection has been good and I think the competition is healthy.”

The Tigers optioned Jason Foley to Triple-A Toledo on Sunday to make room to activate Javier Báez from the 10-day injured list. Foley has appeared in five games, posting a 3.18 ERA and 1.24 WHIP without allowing a walk.

Tigers reliever Jason Foley pitches against the Red Sox during ninth inning action Tuesday, April 12, 2022, at Comerica Park in Detroit.

Hinch said it isn’t because Foley was underperforming. He wants him to work on getting left-handed hitters out, get more repetitions and continue to progress on working ahead of hitters and coming with his best stuff immediately.

“As we told Foley in the room today, (Fetter) and I were in there and (GM) Al (Avila), it’s not a matter of anything he did wrong,” Hinch said. “It’s a matter of a better team that’s more difficult to stay on.”

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