Brayan_VillarrealThe middle innings for the Tigers have a new look. Hard throwing right hander Brayan Villarreal has become the middle reliever of choice for Jim Leyland and the Tigers. Villarreal, the 25 year old right-hander from Venezuela, has appeared in 20 games (23.1 innings) and currently has a 1.16 ERA and a 0.86 WHIP.

With a fastball that touches 98 miles per hour at times and a nice slider, Villarreal is the power arm that the Tigers seem to like in the bullpen. Villarreal has also shown good control for the most part, walking 10 batters in his 23.1 innings pitched. He has the ability to go multiple innings in relief as well, with his longest outing being 2.1 innings against the Pirates on May 19th.

Villarreal has been up and down from Triple-A Toledo three separate times this season, with his latest promotion occurring on May 17 when Jose Valverde was dealing with a minor back injury. Since his May 17th call-up, Villarreal has been lights out, pitching 21.2 innings, allowing only three runs while striking out 33 batters. Villarreal’s best work came on May 29 at Boston when he struck out all five of the batters he faced.

Signed by the Tigers in 2005 and after five years of minor league service time in the Tigers’ organization, Villarreal is finally staking claim to a major league role. Villarreal has pitched mostly in the sixth or seventh inning, but he’s pitched the late innings of close games several times recently. Whenever he has pitched he has become an extremely reliable strikeout reliever.

With veteran Octavio Dotel back from the DL, the Tigers’ bullpen becomes a bit more crowded. Although with Valverde nursing a sprained wrist, Villarreal could continue to pitch in pressure situations until Valverde returns.

It remains to be seen how Villarreal will be used when Detroit’s whole bullpen is healthy, although his recent performance certainly has to inspire confidence in Leyland and Tigers’ management that Villarreal belongs in a big league role.