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Tigers need more reliability from relief corps

MLB.com @beckjason

BOSTON -- The Tigers have trust issues with their bullpen, as they don't have enough relievers they can rely on in a close game.

As the Tigers await an off-day on Monday to rest their main relievers, that's the issue manager Brad Ausmus must weigh.

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BOSTON -- The Tigers have trust issues with their bullpen, as they don't have enough relievers they can rely on in a close game.

As the Tigers await an off-day on Monday to rest their main relievers, that's the issue manager Brad Ausmus must weigh.

View Full Game Coverage

Closer Justin Wilson has been outstanding since taking over the ninth inning. Alex Wilson, despite Friday's loss, has been an effective setup man who has earned the trust to protect a lead in several roles. Shane Greene, as evidenced on Saturday, can pitch just about at any time Ausmus feels he needs a reliever to get him a big out.

After that the Tigers have questions. Francisco Rodriguez remains in repair, trying to get back to the form that made him one of the game's reliable closers for years. Daniel Stumpf has earned an extended stay in the bullpen, but he is still trying to show that he can be more than a situational southpaw. Warwick Saupold has been a long reliever for most of his scattered Tigers tenure, but he was a fill-in setup man on Saturday, entering in a tie game before giving up three runs in the seventh.

"We needed somebody to pick up the sixth and seventh," Ausmus said after Saturday's game. "Stumpf did a nice job in the sixth, and then Saup had been pitching well, and we had the righties coming up."

Right-hander Arcenio Leon had been promising, tossing 4 1/3 scoreless innings over his first four outings, but then he gave up nine runs over his last two outings, including a four-run seventh inning on Thursday to the Angels when the Tigers tried to extend him for a second inning of work. And by the time Saturday's game was over, what had been a 3-3 game at the seventh-inning stretch was an 11-3 final.

Leon, who was called up from Triple-A Toledo over Memorial Day weekend, was optioned back to the Mud Hens on Sunday. Left-handed long reliever Chad Bell took his place on the roster.

"He's got the fastball. It's the secondary [pitches]," Ausmus said. "He needs to tighten up his breaking ball a little bit."

That growth will happen. But nearer-term, the Tigers need somebody to step up in closer games to ease some of the workload off the two Wilsons and Greene. It could be Rodriguez, who Ausmus said would have been the setup man for the eighth inning on Saturday if the Tigers had a lead. It could be Stumpf, whose track record suggests a matchup lefty but who is trying to become more than that.

"We've got seven guys out there," Ausmus said. "They all have to contribute. You can't wear out the same three guys over and over and over again, or they'll be dead in the last two months of the season. So there are times when other guys are going to have to step up."

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.

Detroit Tigers