What is wrong with the Tigers Bullpen? That is the question through ten games in this 2013 season. Coming into the season, the bullpen was the big question mark, however, for a different reason. The closer role.
The first person that one could point to in the bullpen is Brayan Villareal. During his outings, his stuff looks good like its always been, but his command has totally deserted him in the early going. He has attributed this to a mechanical flaw that he is trying to get worked out. After giving up a walk off home run to Jason Donaldson last night it looks like the best place for him to try and get his mechanics straightened out is in Toledo.
The bullpen struggles aren't a total shock as without a closer, its hard to have defined roles for your bullpen guys because each new lineup presents a different for Jim Leyland to try and patch together a plan to protect a lead. When it comes to guys with control issues like Villareal, I think its important for them to have a set role. It sounds ridiculous as they are professionals, but many bullpen guys don't do well if they don't have a set role. They become comfortable in a specific type of situation, and when they are bouncing around from inning to inning or role to role, they struggle to focus and command eludes them. It's cliche, but bullpen guys are a different breed. Villareal is an example of this and maybe the pressure of figuring it out at the major league level isn't the best for him and its time to option him to Triple A.
The other part of that to consider is if anyone at Toledo currently could help the club's bullpen woes. Sample size noted, Bruce Rondon has been solid in his 4 appearances with the Mud Hens this year allowing 3 runners in 4 innings of work while striking out three. If he can consistently display command in Toledo, he will be called up to the big leagues in short order. Another guy who has been lights out at Toledo early on is Luke Putkonen. He hasn't allowed an earned run in seven innings of work. He was a contender for the long relief role in spring training, and would be one of the first call-ups in the case of injury.
I know that the season is very young, but if Villareal is a mess mechanically, it might be time to send him down for a couple weeks to straighten it out and shake up the bullpen for the Tigers a little bit. It's possible they can catch a spark from a new guy for a little bit which could help stabilize a 'Pen quickly taking on water.