07/27/08 7:48 PM ET
Rodney to close; setback for Zumaya
Jones out as closer after two-plus seasons for Tigers
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
A closing change that manager Jim Leyland actually made on Saturday came to fruition on Sunday, when Rodney took over the Tigers' closing duties. It wasn't a save situation, because he entered in the eighth for an injured Joel Zumaya. Still, by holding onto a 6-4 win over the White Sox, it accomplished the task.
Unfortunately, it took him 42 pitches to do it, leaving his availability as well, as well as Zumaya's, in question for Monday's series opener in Cleveland. If neither can go, it could leave the Tigers needing to make a roster move for another arm and needing Jones in the ninth inning.
"I'm concerned about it," Leyland said. "I can't have guys sitting around that can't pitch. We're at the situation where we can't do that now."
The flip side, of course, is that they can't run out Zumaya and Rodney to the point where they're injured again. Detroit endured the first third of the season without either of them -- Zumaya coming off shoulder surgery and Rodney battling shoulder soreness that nearly led to surgery. With this weekend's move, they've ascended to the late-inning combination they've been expected to eventually form.
"That's a gold mine, [Zumaya] and Rodney," Leyland said. "I can't take a chance on getting those guys hurt, I just can't do it. But if you can't pitch, you have to have somebody to pitch."
Leyland didn't make an announcement about the closer change until the Tigers' radio pregame show on Sunday afternoon. The situation didn't come up Saturday night because the Tigers never had a save situation.
Asked after Sunday's game if Rodney was now his closer, Leyland said, "I don't know if he's going to be able to close [Monday] night. I'm going to give Rodney a shot. That situation was all taken care of yesterday. I was going to plan to tinker around with Rodney and Zumaya a little bit for a while."
Either Rodney or Zumaya was expected to take over for Jones eventually, though not necessarily this year. It was a point of discussion near the end of last season, when the Tigers were having discussions with Jones on a new contract. Zumaya's offseason injury scuttled those ideas.
This, however, was a midseason change borne out of recent performance. Jones has been Detroit's closer for two and a half seasons ever since signing with the Tigers as a free agent prior to the 2006 season. He has racked up 93 saves in 108 chances during that span, including 18 out of 21 opportunities this year to boost his team record to 235 and his career total to 319, 14th on the all-time Major League list.
Yet Jones has struggled over the last month. When Jermaine Dye's two-run homer pulled the White Sox ahead with two outs in the ninth inning Friday, it marked Jones' third blown save in seven opportunities since June 28. He has given up 15 hits over 9 1/3 innings in that span, and opponents are hitting .375 with a 1.013 OPS against him in the last month.
"I am 40," Jones said, "We knew this day had to come sometime. I don't like it, but I live with it, because I respect the man that told me. That's just the way it goes. I've set up and closed and done it all in the bullpen. This is also part of being down there, taking the good with the bad and the ups with the downs."
Asked how hard the news was to take, Jones briefly choked up.
"I was [surprised]," Jones said earlier, "but I'm a big boy. I'm a pro."
Asked what role Jones will fill now, Leyland wasn't specific.
"He'll pitch when we call him to pitch," Leyland said. "He's a total professional. We had a wonderful conversation. He handled it like the entire pro he is. And let's not anybody forget what an unbelievable job this guy has done for 2 1/2 years. But we're not throwing Todd Jones under the bus.
"Right now, I have to make tough decisions. I have to make decisions that I think are in the best interests of the ballclub, and I think right now it's the best interests to try somebody else for a while. It doesn't mean he won't close again."
Rodney has experience as the Tigers' closer, most recently for the first two months of the 2006 season while Jones was on the disabled list. He has 21 career saves in parts of six Major League seasons, all with Detroit.
Rodney struggled mightily with his command upon his return from the disabled list last month, but has recently settled down. His run allowed on Sunday ended a stretch of five scoreless outings. He has allowed four earned runs on seven hits in 15 1/3 innings over 13 outings since June 24, walking seven and striking out 15. Opponents have struggled to catch up to a fastball that now tops out at 99 mph.
"My arm is very good now, very strong," Rodney said.
Like Jones, Rodney said he was surprised when Leyland told him of the move on Saturday. But he also thinks it could help him.
"It's a little bit different for me," Rodney said.
How quickly he and Zumaya can bounce back will make a difference, too. Zumaya said he had been feeling the triceps tightness for the last few days, but that it worsened to the point where it affected his performance Sunday. After retiring the side in order on five pitches in the seventh, he walked the leadoff man in the eighth before Orlando Cabrera flew out on a first-pitch fastball. Head athletic trainer Kevin Rand came out after that, and Zumaya left the game without any warmup tosses.
"I've been throwing, and it gradually spasmed up," Zumaya said.
The Tigers listed Zumaya as day-to-day but don't think the injury is serious. That's not much consolation for Zumaya, who was clearly frustrated after the game.
"I'm very frustrated right now," he said. "Very frustrated. I've been through a lot, and being set back again, it frustrates me a lot. I've been on the shelf, and it gets old being on the shelf."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.