Bringing the Heat: Detroit Tigers' Pen Continues To Excel

Adam BoutonCorrespondent ISeptember 3, 2009

ANAHEIM, CA - AUGUST 24:  Closer Fernanado Rodney #56 and catcher Gerald Laird #8 of the Detroit Tigers celebrate after the game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on August 24, 2009 at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California.  Rodney picked up his 27th save as the Tigers won 10-7.   (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Fernando Rodney's playing career in Detroit has been mired with peaks and valleys.

He was a key role player in the Tigers' run to the World Series in 2006 and has been called upon to be a fill-in closer at several spots, too.

Rodney has also made many fans cringe when he entered the game last season. His dismal season was highlighted by six blown saves, 4.91 ERA, and 0-6 record.

When he was handed the keys to the ninth inning at the start of the season in 2009, many in Detroit weren't sure what to think.

But Rodney hasn't disappointed saving 31 of 32 games so far this season in helping Detroit stay in first place in the AL Central. He and New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera are the only relievers with 10 or more saves that have only blown one save.

That's good company.

He has become just the fourth Tiger ever to record 30 saves in a season and he has almost doubled his career total in saves entering the season.

The 32-year-old Rodney isn't the only player working wonders out of the bullpen, however.

Bobby Seay, Brandon Lyon, Ryan Perry, and Fu-Te Ni are all providing solid relief for the Tigers as the team attempts to win the AL Central for the first time since they moved over from the AL East in 1998.

Seay, second in the American League with 25 holds, has been solid all season long and provides Detroit with one of the best lefty options out of any pen. His increased velocity as of late only makes it more daunting for hitters on the opposing team.

Fellow left-hander Ni came up mid-season from Triple-A Toledo and hasn't disappointed either.

In 22 games this season, Ni has allowed just 22 base runners in 24 innings and opponents bat just .181 against him. His 2.63 ERA is the best for any current reliever on the Tigers roster.

Unlike Ni, Lyon has been up with the club all season.

And he has definitely grown on Tigers fans.

Many couldn't stand the sight of him as he proceeded to give up long balls and runs alike in his first few weeks with Detroit. Since then, however, he has grown into the set-up role and is another key contributor. It was a process, for sure, but Jim Leyland eventually inched Lyon into a bigger and bigger role with every outing.

He is second on the club with 11 holds and has locked down opposing hitters in the seventh and eighth inning to get the ball to Rodney in the ninth.

Lyon (6-4) has chiseled the ERA down to 3.00 and opponents are batting only .210 against him. He also has cut down on the base on balls and has only walked 23 in 63 innings. His ability to get ground balls at big spots has been important this season.

Unlike Lyon, rookie Ryan Perry doesn't try to get ground balls.

He tries to blow it right by hitters.

He usually succeeds. While erratic at times, Perry also has the ability to dial up the radar gun. With 100 MPH fastballs, he isn't the only the member on the team who can reach those speeds, but at the moment, he's one of the only members out of the bullpen.

Perry has shown very good poise in his rookie campaign and also has seemed to grow right before everyone's eyes all within his first season.

While he still has room for improvement as a 21-year-old, Perry looks to be justifying the Tigers first round pick they used on him just a year ago. In 50 innings this season, Perry has a 3.96 ERA with 48 strikeouts and 30 walks.

The Tigers aren't second in the American League in ERA (4.17) solely because of the starting rotation. The bullpen is a big reason why as well.

Even without deadly right-hander Joel Zumaya for most of the season, the Tigers pen is proving to be one of the best in all of baseball.

With just around four weeks left in the baseball season, the bullpen will continue to be vital if the Tigers are to secure its first postseason bid since the World Series season of 2006.