The other story of the weekend is the growing closer debate among Tiger fans. After a horrendous 11th inning against the Yankees on Wednesday and last night's two out two run home run by Youkilis, Todd Jones has now pitched 20 innings, allowed 27 hits, has an ERA of 5.85 and a K/BB ratio of 7/4. That's a pretty ugly line for a closer on a team that's trying to contend for a playoff spot. On the other hand, his supporters insist that a closer's job is to save games and he has converted 16 of 18 save opportunites and thus he has done his job. They are right about that and they are also right when they say that no other team would replace a closer with that kind of save percentage. Where I begin to disagree with them is when they talk about Jones' mental toughness. While I don't question his ability to emotionally handle pressure situations, I think his save percentage success is a function more of luck than mental toughness. If he keeps pitching the same way, he will start blowing more games and this could be a momentum breaker.
Interestingly, Jim Leyland may also be losing his patience with Jones. Jason Beck reports that the manager was not happy about how Jones handled the 9th inning last night:
"You've got all the momentum on your side. You got two quick outs. You just got one of the best hitters in baseball out two hitters ago in Manny Ramirez, and you've got 800 acres to play with in center field. You've got strike one. There's no reason to have any conversations. That's the only problem I have with the entire situation. A guy getting a hit, a guy hitting a home run, I have absolutely no problem with. He's done a good job. He's got 16 out of 18, but that's a no-no. Absolutely inexcusable."
Here's what Jones had to say about it:
"I was checking with Vance if he saw the same thing I saw on Mike Lowell," said Jones, who played with the third baseman last year in Florida. "I saw something that I recognized with his body, and then I looked back at the video and it wasn't as big as I thought it was."
This is not to say that Jones' job is in jeopardy yet. The fact that Rodney got the save tonight does not indicate a change in roles at all. With the Tigers leading 3-2, Jones was warming up in the bullpen during the bottom of 8th inning and supposedly was ready to close the game. However, he sat down after Ordonez got the three run homer as it was no longer a save situation. So Jones is still the man for now but the closer situation figures to be one of the big story lines of the season.
Chris Shelton was moved down to the 8th spot tonight because of his recent struggles at the plate. If you are thinking that Shelton has not done much since his incredible start, you are correct. His statistics through April 17 were: .471/.500/1.216. Since April 18 his line is: .234/.316/.314. He seems to be trying pull everything and is swinging at some pitches well out of the strike zone. He has a BB/K ratio of 17/53 for the season. That's not the kind of plate discipline he showed in the minors. I think he'll make the adjustments and snap out of it but you have to be just a little bit concerned.