Sometimes, the best way to see what you have in a player is to just throw him in the deep end and let him swim.
I've seen quite a bit of criticism for how Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland chose to introduce rookie reliever Chance Ruffin into the majors Monday night, bringing him in after Duane Below walked Adam Dunn to load the bases in the fifth inning. Oh, and the guy Ruffin would face was one of the Chicago White Sox's best hitters in Carlos Quentin.
A tough situation? Absolutely. And I see why many thought it was far too precarious a scenario to put a rookie into.
But I think Leyland made the right call here. The Tigers need a reliever to come through in the middle innings. The front office seemed to believe that Ruffin's strikeout stuff (11.5 per nine innings this season) would help out. So why not see what Ruffin had?
If I can get geeky for a paragraph, it's like that scene in "X-Men: First Class" when Charles Xavier is trying to boost one of his student's confidence as he's learning how to fly. The first attempt didn't go so well, so the student was understandably apprehensive about trying again. After watching the kid hesitate and think too much about the consequences, Magneto just decided to push him off the edge and see what would happen when the "fight or flight" impulse kicked in.
Okay, so Ruffin didn't end up flying like the X-Men kid did. He actually kind of crashed and burned, giving up a two-run double to Quentin that broke the game open for the White Sox. In successive innings, he served up home runs to A.J. Pierzynski and Paul Konerko. Ruffin's major league debut could've gone much better.
Middle relief is still a hole for the Tigers. It's why they reportedly have interest in the Orioles' Koji Uehara. Ryan Perry pitched his way to Triple-A Toledo, as did Daniel Schlereth. David Purcey proved himself entirely unreliable with three walks last Wednesday against Oakland. Al Alburquerque apparently can't pitch on back-to-back nights, as that lethal slider puts strain on his right elbow.
Throwing the kid right into the fire didn't work. I get that. Ruffin walked off the field with a distinct odor of gas and a 10.80 ERA. And now, maybe Leyland, his coaches, and the players in the Tigers' clubhouse are wondering whether or not the kid's confidence was affected.
Yes, Ruffin could've been eased into the majors under far less difficult circumstances. But all accounts of the rookie say that he's mentally tough, with the bounce-back mindset that you want in a reliever. He can shake off the bad outing and come back the next day. That's why he was called up to the big leagues.
Leyland had to find out if he could trust Ruffin in tight situations. Obviously, that question still has yet to be answered. And maybe there are some doubts as to whether his straight-arrow fastball can get major league hitters out. (That slider seemed to work just fine.) But the Tigers also have to see how Ruffin will respond to adversity, or whether a veteran reliever might need to be acquired, and this presents them such an opportunity.