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Mike Pelfrey strong again, but pitching issues continue to plague Tigers

TORONTO -- Mike Pelfrey had a pretty clear picture of what was needed of him against the Toronto Blue Jays. With an injury-ravaged rotation, a depleted bullpen and a pair of weekend starters yet to be named heading into Friday night’s game, the Detroit Tigers needed innings.

The big man’s tenure with the Tigers did not begin well, but he has shown signs of improvement in recent starts. And with a slim margin of error against an imposing Blue Jays offense, Pelfrey did exactly what was necessary: He pitched well, held Toronto to a mere run, and went six innings despite a pitch count that escalated early in the game.

However, the offense and bullpen did not cooperate in the team’s 6-0 shutout loss at Rogers Centre.

“He kept us in the game, but we couldn’t scratch out enough runs, or any runs for that matter,” third baseman Nick Castellanos said of a frustrating effort that saw the Tigers go 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position and strand eight runners total.

The bullpen, which incurred a heavy workload on Thursday night and was again without Bruce Rondon (illness) on Friday, was exposed against the Jays’ potent lineup, as lefty reliever Kyle Ryan and Bobby Parnell combined to give up four runs in a devastating seventh inning that was punctuated by Edwin Encarnacion’s two-out, three-run blast.

Pelfrey, who fell to 0-6 on the road, has now allowed just one run or fewer in three of his past four starts, yet he has lost three of his past four decisions. He limited the Jays to one run on six hits over six innings and still was saddled with the loss, which dropped his first-half record to 2-8 heading into the All-Star break.

“He’s definitely not pitched to a 2-8 record,” catcher James McCann said. "He’s thrown the ball a lot better than that record says.”

With two games remaining before the All-Star break, the Tigers sit at 45-41, though the number in the loss column could balloon if the pitching woes continue in the second half.

Daniel Norris, who is on the disabled list with a Grade 1 strain of his right oblique, and Jordan Zimmermann, who is on the DL with a right neck strain, are both anticipating a return soon after the break (Zimmermann revealed on Friday that tests for thoracic outlet syndrome had recently come back negative), which should stabilize the rotation to a degree.

But the bullpen has hit a troubling stretch recently in which manager Brad Ausmus is often forced to choose between the lesser of two evils: opting to bring in a less-reliable option instead of risking injury by overworking some of the steadier role relievers.

And Ausmus didn’t exactly have an abundance of candidates when it came to this weekend’s starters, either.

He announced following Friday’s game that it would be prospect Matt Boyd and converted starter Anibal Sanchez taking the mound on Saturday and Sunday, respectively. When asked how he settled on the pair, he replied:

“Uh, truthfully, there wasn’t a lot of options.”

That means that in order to avoid a sweep at the hands of another American League foe, the Tigers will need to rely on Boyd, who has been inconsistent in his brief stints with the big club this season, and Sanchez, whose performances have been so erratic that he has been sent to the bullpen not just once, but twice already in the first half.

The Tigers will be counting on them, because they have no other choices. And they're hoping this weekend, their offense and bullpen show up, too.