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07/23/08 3:50 PM ET

Bullpen jelling, recalling a banner year

Shoulders healed, Rodney, Zumaya have found their '06 form

KANSAS CITY -- There Francisco Rodney and Joel Zumaya were, pitching scoreless innings on Tuesday, looking an awful lot like they did in 2006.

That's good news for Detroit, as the Tigers know those two relievers will be important if the club wants to make a run for the playoffs, as they did two years ago.

In 2006, Rodney's 3.52 ERA and Zumaya's 1.94 mark led Detroit into their first World Series appearance since 1984. This year, Rodney and Zumaya couldn't help the Tigers as the club embarked on a poor start. Both relievers had shoulder injuries and missed a large chunk of the schedule.

When the relievers returned in late June, their results differed at first. Rodney couldn't find his control, throwing just eight pitches, all balls, in his second appearance. He gave up five runs in his first two appearances, but has since turned it around. Rodney hasn't allowed a run in his last four outings, a span of 4 2/3 innings.

His last appearance, on Tuesday, was particularly noticeable. Rodney came in after a long rain delay and made sure the Tigers didn't come out flat. He gave up a hit to the first batter he faced, but then settled down, striking out four in two innings of work.

"He's really good," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "People tend to forget just how good he was in 2006. He was our closer at the beginning when Jones was out, and did a heck of a job."

Unlike Rodney, Zumaya has pitched as well as he did in 2006 since coming back off the disabled list. The flame-throwing righty has held a 1.76 ERA through 13 games. The only time when Zumaya got into serious trouble was last week when he blew a save against Baltimore. It wasn't a bad outing, by any means, though -- he did strike out four batters.

Leyland has reiterated that Zumaya could be the Tigers' closer in the future.

"Is the equipment there to do it?" Leyland asked. "Yeah."

For now, Zumaya is still a setup man, along with Rodney. And right now, they're forming a solid tandem again.

"When they walk in the clubhouse," Leyland said, "it makes a difference. These guys got a presence."

Mark Dent is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.