It was only a matter of time, wasn't it?
Tigers pitcher Phil Coke is headed back to the bullpen after giving up eight runs (seven earned) and 10 hits in just four innings of work Wednesday night. Charlie Furbush will take Coke's spot in the rotation, beginning with Monday's start in Anaheim versus the Angels. Manager Jim Leyland announced the change Thursday morning as the team prepared for a matinee against the New York Mets.
Coke looked like a beaten man as he walked off the field Wednesday night, even letting a heckler get to him as he went into the dugout. And he sounded like a beaten man, talking to reporters after the Tigers' 16-9 loss to the Mets.
"Boos, no boos. Happy people, not happy people, it doesn't matter, I'm doing the best I can. But I'm sick to my stomach right now."
At one point, Coke looked more like a victim of hard luck than bad pitching. Despite a 1-5 record, his ERA was 3.81 as of May 23. During a three-start span against the Twins, Red Sox and Rays, he'd allowed two runs or fewer in each appearance.
But his performance had gotten progressively worse since then. In four of his last five starts, Coke has allowed four or more runs and hadn't pitched past the fifth inning.
Putting Coke back in the bullpen — where he excelled last season (7-5, 3.76 ERA) — may end up helping two areas of the pitching staff. The relief corps has struggled recently, especially in the past two games. Daniel Schlereth was sent down to Triple-A Toledo after Tuesday's game. And Brad Thomas had his rehab assignment cut short after he felt stiffness in his elbow after pitching on Monday. He was brought up to Detroit so team doctors could examine him.
That left Furbush and David Purcey as the remaining left-handers in the bullpen. Purcey was lit up for four runs in an inning of work on Tuesday. And now, Furbush is headed to the rotation. The Tigers are obviously hoping that Coke can settle down in a familiar role while also bringing some stability to the middle relief innings before Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde are used in a game.
Furbush has pitched well since the Tigers called him up in late May. In 12 appearances, he's compiled a 2.49 ERA with 17 strikeouts in 21 2/3 innings. Though he's pitched exclusively in relief with Detroit, Furbush has pitched almost his entire professional career as a starter. 68 of his 71 minor league appearances were starts. 17 of those starts were with Toledo over the past two seasons. This year, before getting promoted, Furbush was 4-3 with a 2.91 ERA in eight starts. He struck out 55 batters in 46 1/3 innings.