In case you didn’t know—because I certainly didn’t—Chad Durbin can deal. After three starts and a 10.53 ERA to begin the season, I started to think that Durbin might be the worst pitcher I’ve ever seen. If this was the guy keeping Andrew Miller in the minors, then going with a four-man rotation until Miller is ready or Rogers returns seemed to be more than a reasonable thought back in April. Thankfully, three starts do not make a season. It seems like anytime a Tigers pitcher has difficulties in their approach, the problems are inevitably corrected by a conversation with Kenny Rogers. So it stands to reason that Durbin’s resurgence can be attributed to just that.
Durbin is 4-0 with a 2.50 ERA over his last six starts and hasn’t given up more than three runs in any of them. He is not a fire-baller like Justin Verlander or Jeremy Bonderman. He eats at the corners and changes speeds like Rogers. Much is made of the need for a pitcher to “know how” to pitch. I think something clicked in that conversation with Rogers because Durbin has been in control ever since. Durbin had been atrocious in his previous 337 innings in MLB with an ERA approaching 6.00 so I don’t think his success has anything in common with Zach Miner’s success last season. Miner was a new face who took some getting used to. Once the league got a feel for Miner’s style, he got smoked. Durbin has already been tatooed by the league so I don’t think any newfound success can be attributed to a fluke or unfamiliarity. He is seeing results because he is pitching better.
While Durbin is making Tigers fans happy in the interim, he will be the focus of much speculation come June. With Rogers expected to return, Durbin’s status in the rotation becomes murky. Verlander, Bonderman, Robertson, and Rogers are not going anywhere. Mike Maroth, however, is another story. Durbin has given the Tigers a much better chance of winning than Maroth. Maroth’s ERA is close to 5.00 and his WHIP is atrociously high at 1.64. I understand that Maroth is going through an adjustment period after missing most of last season with arm troubles. It would be unfair to judge his place in the rotation on just a few starts. Durbin turned things around drastically and Maroth could do the same. However, if Durbin continues to out-pitch Maroth through June, the Tigers will have to consider who gives the team the best chance to win. Not only do I think that Durbin gives the team a better chance of winning at this point but I think Andrew Miller does as well. If Maroth isn’t even the second best option to be the 5th man in the rotation the Tigers can’t afford to keep him there.
Even if Maroth does turn things around, Durbin still has relevancy for the Tigers. He could allow the Tigers to go to a six-man rotation in September. That would allow the power pitchers to be at full rest for the playoff push and preserve their arms for the playoffs. Durbin is not like Miller or any of the other top pitching prospects in the organization. He is pushing 30 and has had almost zero previous success. It is doubtful that the Tigers will ever be able to trade Durbin. Since the Tigers would never get fair value in return, his future is in a Tigers uniform. In the event that Rogers returns as expected and Maroth bounces back, Durbin should provide some depth in the bullpen. He has proved valuable enough that a return to Toledo should not be in the cards unless he returns to his previous form. If anything, Maroth could be another lefty in the bullpen if Durbin beats him out. It’ll be interesting to see how all of this plays out.