© 2014 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.

4/10/2014 4:50 A.M. ET

Ausmus counting on Coke to deliver in 'pen

LOS ANGELES -- Tigers manager Brad Ausmus had his pitching mapped out for the 10th inning and beyond Tuesday night. If Phil Coke could retire Dee Gordon and Carl Crawford, Ausmus had Al Alburquerque waiting for right-handed-hitting Hanley Ramirez if they couldn't walk him, and Drew Smyly set for potential long-relief work after that, starting with Adrian Gonzalez and Andre Ethier.

The key to the sequence, whether they walked Ramirez or pitched to him, was Coke keeping the game going. Crawford's double to the left-field corner ended it, scoring Chone Figgins from first base after Joba Chamberlain had walked him to lead off the inning.

It's a microcosm for the Tigers' bullpen struggles. It's also a microcosm to Coke's season so far, and a continuation of his struggles from last season.

At this point, the Tigers are trying to see what Coke has. If this was last season, when Smyly was a full-time reliever, perhaps the decision might have been different. The way the bullpen lines up most days this year, with Smyly normally in the rotation, they need to see what he can do if and when he's effective.

"Yeah, we do," Ausmus said. "We need Phil to pitch well. He finished Spring Training pitching pretty well. His first two outings during the regular season obviously have not been what we hoped, but we need Phil to pitch well."

If he doesn't, then the Tigers likely will soon have a decision to make, either reordering the lefty assignments in the bullpen or changing the bullpen mix with one of the many left-handers at Triple-A Toledo. That point, however, isn't here yet.

Coke did not have a solid history against Crawford heading into the meeting, having given up three hits in six at-bats. Ausmus said he was aware of the history, but that the sample size was small.

"Generally, I would say 0-for-6 or 3-for-6 doesn't mean a ton," Ausmus said. "If somebody was 0-for-6 with five strikeouts, that might hold a little bit more water."

Despite results, Nathan feels he's making strides

LOS ANGELES -- Tigers closer Joe Nathan looked around a small gathering of reporters around his locker in the cramped visiting clubhouse at Dodger Stadium before Wednesday's series finale and wondered what had happened. He didn't expect a couple of quotes on satellite radio about a dead arm to create this type of attention.

"It's not an injury. It's something that every pitcher goes through every year," Nathan said. "It's not even newsworthy. You guys shouldn't even waste your time writing about dead arm, because it's basically like knowing there's second base on the field."

Seven hours later, it was headline news. And Nathan, despite a three-run lead squandered for his second blown save on three hits and two walks, said he felt like he had pitched his way through the worst of it, and the Tigers survived it, with Victor Martinez's home run in the 10th inning securing a 7-6 win.

"The results obviously [stunk]," Nathan said, "but I felt like I got better tonight, to be honest with you. I felt like my stuff got better tonight. My stuff got closer to where I want it to be."

His manager, meanwhile, gave his closer a vote of support.

"His stuff looked as crisp as we've seen it," Ausmus said, "and he felt that was the best stuff he's had, in terms of the break on the slider and the fastball coming out of his hand.

"He's been doing it a long time. He's probably learned to deal with the failure, but the good ones bounce back. Hopefully he's ready to bounce back on Friday."

If he is, he'll be in line to protect a ninth-inning lead once again.

Back in Nathan's younger days, "dead arm" was a fairly common term, and a Spring Training ritual for many. Nowadays, it's mentioned rarely enough that it's news, whether Nathan considers it as such.

The mention came on Sirius/XM's Mad Dog Sports Radio with host Adam Schein. Asked how he felt his season has gone, Nathan brought up the dead arm on his own.

"For me, fortunately, I think the club has overcome me not throwing as well as I'd like to," Nathan told Schein. "I think I'm still at a case of maybe some dead arm going right now. Usually that happens to the middle or later part of spring and hopefully you get through it. But mine is going more into the season and I'm still fine-tuning things, but fortunately it hasn't hurt us too much and my tougher outings still resulted in wins for us."

It's the first time Nathan had mentioned it. His manager wasn't aware of it when asked Wednesday afternoon.

Putting a definition on dead arm is difficult. It's neither pain nor soreness. For lack of a better description, it's essentially a case of the blahs in the arm.

"It's actually one of those things where you feel great and nothing's there," Nathan said before the game. "You can't even explain it. It's almost frustrating because you feel so good out there and you're like, 'Where is it?' And then you'll go out there and feel like crap and you'll have more life on the ball. Can't explain it."

Whether Wednesday fit the latter category remains to be seen.

Nathan entered Wednesday averaging 90.2 mph on his fastball through three appearances, according to Fangraphs.com. He gave up a leadoff home run to Adrian Gonzalez Wednesday night off a 90-mph fastball, which the lefty-swinging Gonzalez sent out to the opposite field.

"I think it was more a result of Gonzalez," Nathan said. "He can hit the ball away pretty well, and we went away with three pitches."

Nathan's velocity slowly crept up from there, topping out at 93 mph on the fastball Dee Gordon lined into right field for a game-tying two-out single. Realistically, it was a lack of timely strikes, command or no, that cost Nathan, whose back-to-back walks to Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp put the tying run on base with nobody out.

"A lot of pitches, even ones that missed, were very close, if not good pitches that could have been called strikes, very borderline pitches, where I want them," Nathan said. "I want pitches that, when I'm missing, they're not off by much. It gets hitters thinking. Results are not where I want them to be, but a lot of times you have to not pay attention to results and just pay attention to the way the ball's coming out of your hand. Tonight's one of those situations. I got to feel good about the strides I made. Fortunately, again, it didn't cost us."

With Gonzalez and Ethier leading off the ninth, both left-handed hitters, Ausmus said he did not consider leaving in Drew Smyly, who had faced the minimum nine batters over the previous three innings.

"Joe's the closer," Ausmus said. "He's pitched well against the guys on that roster. It wasn't his night, but there was no question in my mind Joe was pitching the ninth."

Improved Torii remains out of Tigers' lineup

LOS ANGELES -- While Torii Hunter supposedly felt some improvement in his bruised left knee, he still had swelling that limited his mobility. Thus, he was held out of the starting lineup for Wednesday's series finale at Dodger Stadium.

"There's a little bit of swelling," manager Brad Ausmus said. "The assessment is that it's improved."

Ausmus said before the game that Hunter might be available to pinch-hit, but indicated he'd prefer to give Hunter the night off and pair it up with Thursday's scheduled off-day for two days of rest ahead of Friday night's series opener in San Diego.

"I'd like to keep him off his feet, for the most part," Ausmus said.

Hunter bruised the knee colliding with the short wall down the right-field line Tuesday night, eventually leaving the game once the knee swelled up.

With Hunter out, rookie Tyler Collins started in right field for the first time after two starts in left. Hunter's absence also meant Miguel Cabrera returned to his customary third spot in the batting order, with Victor Martinez returning to cleanup.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.