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Jim Leyland’s comments draw similarities to Red Sox plights

05.18.11 at 5:02 pm ET
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The Red Sox and Tigers are supposed to be two different teams, each with their own set of problems, right? Well if you listen to Detroit veteran skipper Jim Leyland, you may find the two teams, who find themselves as opponents for a two-game set on Wednesday and Thursday, have more in common than their nearly similarly mediocre 22-19 (Detroit) and 21-20 (Boston) early-season records.

Take bullpen problems.

Both the Sox and the Tigers signed relievers Bobby Jenks and Joaquin Benoit respectively to similar multiyear contracts in the offseason to serve as the potential set-up man in the eighth inning. Jenks got two years/$12 million while Benoit received a deal for three years/$16.5 million.

But after early-season struggles for both hurlers, the exact role for each appears to be much more in the air than either team could have hoped. Jenks is currently on the disabled list with right bicep problems, but the injury came after he had allowed four earned runs in his last three outings to balloon his season ERA to 9.35.

Benoit, who posted a 1.34 ERA in a one-year deal with Tampa Bay last season, similarly saw his ERA jump to 7.98 after his last appearance in which he allowed three earned in just one inning of work.

Luckily for Boston manager Terry Francona, he has Daniel Bard to fall back on as another set-up man. Leyland does not have that luxury.

When talking about his eighth-inning options before Wednesday’€™s game, the 20-year manager says he can only decide on a case-by-case basis after demoting Benoit.

‘€œI don’€™t know,’€ he said. ‘€œI can’€™t really tell you anything. We’€™ll go by feel.’€

Meanwhile, Leyland says the plan for Benoit going forward was to pitch him in ‘€œless stressful situations,’€ a strategy Francona may have tried in Jenks’€™ last two outings in which he pitched in the seventh and sixth innings respectively.

But the similarities between the two sides don’€™t just end at Benoit and Jenks. Because of injuries to key players like Marco Scutaro and Magglio Ordonez in recent weeks, both clubs have had to dip into the minor-league well a bit and call up young players perhaps a little earlier than they normally would be.

For the Red Sox, this meant bringing up 21-year-old shortstop prospect and potential fielding wizard Jose Iglesias to replace Scutaro, and for the Tigers, it meant 25-year-old outfielder Andy Dirks had to make his big-league debut to take Ordonez’€™s spot a littler earlier than perhaps Leyland would have liked.

‘€œSometimes, guys are here out of necessity,’€ the Detroit manager said. ‘€œGuys are here that wouldn’€™t be here as quickly as they are, but they’€™re doing better than everybody else and you’€™ve got to have somebody at that position so they’€™re here.

‘€œI don’€™t think that anyone’€™s ever realized how difficult this game is to play. Consequently, when you bring a player up here, a young player, you have to believe what your projection is. You have to believe in your scouts. You have to believe what you see.’€

This differs a bit from the days of yore, according to Leyland, when players would only come up when they were absolutely ready and not a moment sooner.

‘€œGuys don’€™t get overseasoned anymore in the minor leagues. They’€™re up here nowadays. The old days are over. It’€™s not like you hit .340 and 30 home runs in Triple-A and they tell you to go back and do it again like they used to. ‘€¦ I don’€™t know if that’€™s good or not, but that’€™s the way it is.’€

The final case of comparison between Wednesday and Thursday’€™s foes is a difficult upcoming interleague schedule. Both squads are set to travel to two consecutive National League teams at the end of June, meaning that both squads will have to be without the comfort of a designated hitter over that time. Detroit has to travel to Colorado and Los Angeles from June 17-22 while Boston will see Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Houston from June 24-July 3.

Because of road trips like that, Leyland echoed his sentiments from the day before and said that interleague play may have ‘€œrun its course.’€

‘€œI think it’€™s completely ridiculous for an American League team to go to two National League cities in a row,’€ he said.

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