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Tigers’ bullpen issues affecting Mud Hens

04/27/2014, 12:00am EDT

Even though the season is only three weeks old, the Mud Hens have already used nine different relievers.

And with the Detroit Tigers’ early season bullpen troubles, don’t look for that revolving door to stop spinning any time soon.

The latest move came Saturday when the Tigers promoted Jose Ortega from Toledo and returned Justin Miller to the Hens. Then, when starter Anibal Sanchez was injured in Saturday’s loss to the Twins, Miller returned to the Detroit roster.

That was an unusual set of moves for two reasons. In the case of Ortega, he had thrown an inning for the Hens on Friday; normally a pitcher who is about to be promoted doesn’t pitch on the day before the promotion.

As for Miller, the only reason he returns to the Tigers is because of injury. Normally a player sent to the minors cannot return to the big leagues for 10 days unless he replaces a player placed on the disabled list.

More moves are likely coming. Mud Hens manager Larry Parrish wouldn’t talk about specific pitchers, but he would talk about what elements he and the Tigers were looking for in potential call-ups.

“The first thing the pitcher has to do is command the ball,” he said. “If a pitcher is having trouble throwing strikes here, they’re going to have a lot of trouble throwing strikes up there.

“And a pitcher is going to have to throw more than one pitch. A pitcher can’t get by up there throwing just a fastball, unless he’s special — and there aren’t a lot of Mariano Riveras out there.”

The Mud Hens bullpen has had its own struggles, posting a 4.21 ERA as a unit. The options with the best numbers include Nate Robertson, who has a 2.13 ERA in 10 appearances, and Kevin Whelan, who has a 1.93 ERA in three games.

But both of those pitchers face an additional hurdle, since they are not on the Tigers’ 40-man roster. Among the Hens pitchers who are on the 40-man are Mike Belfiore, who has a 5.91 ERA and has surrendered 12 walks in 10⅔ innings; Casey Crosby, who has a 3.75 ERA but has given up 15 walks in 19 innings; and Melvin Mercedes, who has a 6.52 ERA.

An interesting option is Robbie Ray, who is part of the Mud Hens rotation. The good news is that Ray has a 1.93 ERA and opponents are hitting just .235 against him; the bad news is that Ray is not on the 40-man roster, and he has made just four starts above Double-A and only 15 starts above Hi-A ball.

“That’s what you would like — he would stay here and continue his development,” Parrish said. “But the Tigers have a good club and are expected to win, so things could happen.

“No one is smart enough to know if he can go up there and fill that role as a bullpen guy.”

PICK ’EM OFF: The Hens had caught 17 of 39 would-be basestealers through Friday, which is the third-best mark in the league.

Much of the credit for that goes to Toledo catcher James McCann, who also ranks third among league catchers after nailing 13 of 27 potential base-stealers.

But the Hens’ pitchers, especially the left-handers, have been picking runners off first base with regularity. Blaine Hardy has posted a pair of pickoffs, while Duane Below has picked three runners off first and had them retired at second.

TOO LATE: Before Saturday’s game the scoreboard featured advertisements trying to sell tickets.

Unfortunately, one of the games that was advertised was an opening day doubleheader that was played in 2011.

Contact John Wagner at:, 419-724-6481 or on Twitter @jwagnerblade.

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Tag(s): Pro  Mud Hens  John Wagner