The more we learn about Phil Coke, the more Detroiters are going to love this guy.

But, the more we learn about Phil Coke, the more Detroiters are going to worry about him.

If Coke, the lefty lifetime reliever who will be in the Tigers rotation this season, was a product, he’d be juice concentrate. And he needs to be diluted with realism.

Tigers fans ought to love that Coke is a perfectionist. They ought to revel in his bulldog approach to pitching. He’s got a little Jack Morris in him. And the neurotic nature of Woody Allen.

Coke snarls on the mound and nothing is ever good enough for him. The other day he pitched three innings, surrendered one hit and struck out four, and he was crabby about himself.

That’s all good—to a degree, like if it was Game 7 of the World Series, not a meaningless game in Florida in early March.

Manager Jim Leyland has spoken of it more than once—the need to keep Coke on an even keel, because if you don’t, the poor guy is going to be curled into a fetal position before Memorial Day.

Coke is a lifetime reliever, which means he’s used to doing his pitching in bite-sized morsels, and he’s used to taking those bites several times a week. If some bites tasted nasty, Coke knew he could dig back into the bag in short order.

Not so now, as a starter.

Coke has to wait four days before getting another crack at the hitters, and even he has expressed concern over whether he can handle such a layover.

But at least the Tigers, and Leyland in particular, saw this coming. They’ve hardly been waylaid by Coke’s ever-burning fire.

Coke wants perfection. He wants every pitch just so. If he walks a guy or gives up a hit on a bad pitch, it rips him apart inside.

Can’t do that.

What we hope Phil Coke will learn in 2011 in his first season as a starter, is that he can’t live and die with every start, with every pitch. We hope he learns to pace himself, for Coke is in danger of approaching baseball’s marathon season with a sprinter’s mentality.

It’s up to Leyland and pitching coach Rick Knapp to bottle the energy that is Phil Coke and distribute it evenly into 30-35 smaller bottles this season.

Coke? Bottle?

Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

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