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Pitching Key To Detroit Tigers Resurgence
James M. Morisette. 28th May, 2006 - 6:42 pm

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The Detroit Tigers (35-14) and its faithful followers are currently witnessing something that has not been seen in the city since 1984 ? solid pitching.

Not since the glory days when hurlers like Jack Morris, Dan Petry, and Willie Hernandez roamed the historic baseball grounds at Michigan and Trumbull have the Tigers boasted a better team pitching record.

Coming into Sunday?s third and final game of an AL Central Divisional series versus the Cleveland Indians, the Tigers own a Major League leading team ERA of 3.25. This is .24 points lower than the league leading 3.49 ERA achieved by the 1984 World Series winning Tiger team.

More impressively, Detroit possess the lowest ERA in the league amongst both starting and relieving pitchers. They are also ranked first in shutouts (9), first in On Base Average percentage (.306) and tied for fifth in homeruns given up (45).

But most importantly, Tiger hurlers - unlike years past - have proven their ability to consistently throw strikes. They are currrently ranked fourth in the Majors behind the Twins, White Sox, and Red Sox with just 138 walked batsmen. By comparison, the Cubs pitching staff, which is the worst pitching staff in the Majors at this point, have walked 222 batters.

So who is responsible for the Tigers pitching transformation?

Some say that team General Manager Dave Dombrowski has helped the cause by remaining patient with a powerful but youthful pitching staff and also by signing veteran left-handed hurler Kenny Rogers during the off season.

Others argue new Tigers skipper Jim Leyland, with his disciplinarian, every game matters approach, is responsible for the the team's quick turnaround.

Some even say veteran catcher Ivan Rodriguez has greatly helped his pitchers by giving them confidence to battle any batter standing at the plate regardless of past outcomes.

While all these arguments are certainly valid, no one can deny the tremendous impact new pitching coach Chuck Hernandez has had on his core of hurlers.

Hernandez, who came to Detroit from the Tampa Bay Devil Rays when skipper Lou Pinella saddled up and rode out of town, has instilled a sense of pride and has stressed the importance of proper pre-game preparation within his young guns.

Under Hernandez?s watch, the Tigers pitching staff looks less like Charlie Sheen and Company during the early part of Major League II and more like Maverick, Ice Man and fellow fighter pilots in the movie Top Gun, sitting in a dark briefing room on the aircraft carrier shortly before conquering the Soviets during a heated dog fight.

Ok maybe not exactly.

But Hernandez has been successful thus far in collecting critical intelligence on opposing American League batters as indicated in an article penned by MLB Reporter Jason Beck. After highlighting exploitable weaknesses in this acquired intelligence, Hernandez, like a military general briefs his troops prior to key battle, briefs his pitchers and catchers on what he discovered shortly before helping them use their strengths on the mound and behind the plate to emerge victorious during every baseball game.

And thus far, Hernandez?s vigilant intelligence work has paid off ? especially for the starting pitchers. For example:

- Kenny Rogers, with 7 wins and 2 losses, is tied for second for the most victories in
baseball. He also has a 3.32 ERA and has walked just 16 batters in 62 innings pitched.

- Justin Verlander is 7-3 with a league fifth best 2.55 ERA, and has struck out 39
batsmen in 69 innings of work.

- Mike Maroth, who is the pitcher who accumulated a 9-21 record and 5.73 ERA in
2003, is currently 5-2 with a 3.56 ERA.

- Nate Robertson is 5-2 with a 3.02 ERA

- Jeremy Bonderman is 5-3 with 53 strikeouts in 63 innings pitched and a 4.57 ERA

Detroit?s relief pitchers, led by Fernando Rodney (3-1, 1.25 ERA, 21 Ks in 21 innings), Jaime Walker (0-0, 0.77 ERA, 11 Ks in 11 innings, 0 walks), and rookie Joel Zumaya (3-0, 3.22 ERA, 27 Ks in 22.1 innings), have been equally impressive.

And lets not forget closer Todd Jones.

Jones, who had been released by the Tigers a few years ago only to be re-signed a few years later, has cashed in on 16 of 17 save opportunities. He is just 2 saves short of tying Boston Red Sox league leading closer Jonathan Papelbon (18 saves) for the Major League lead.

However, while the Tiger pitching staff has reigned supreme during the course of the first 49 games, the question is, will they be able to sustain their consistency over the course of a 162 game season. Some argue they will like the Oakland Athletics did a few years ago. Some argue they will follow the same fate as last years Baltimore Orioles.

Regardless of opinion, Detroit's early successful pitching is good for the long struggling baseball city that is Detroit. And it is good for baseball as well.

James Morisette covers the Detroit Tigers for RealGM. He can be reached at jamesmorisette@yahoo.com