July 11th, 2011

New celebration in store for Valverde All-Star save?

Jose Valverde was talking today about what it means to come back to Arizona and get a chance to save a game, and he was smiling.

“This is where I started playing baseball,” Valverde said. “This is where I threw my first pitch in that stadium. I have good friends. I have exciting moments in that stadium.”

That, of course, set up the logical question: Did Valverde celebrate his saves the same here?

“I think I had more here,” he said. “I don’t know. You can ask my boy Tony Clark. He’s here.”

Clark is a former Tiger, of course, but he was also a teammate of Valverde in Arizona when Valverde first came up.

“He was consistent,” Clark said.

Valverde celebrated a bit in last year’s All-Star Game after he retired the side in the 9th inning with the American League trailing. If he closes down the game Tuesday — AL manager Ron Washington said he’ll turn to Valverde if there’s a save chance — he almost has to bring out his celebration. His former fans in Arizona would expect no less.

“Oh, yeah,” Valverde said. “I have a new one for tomorrow. I practiced it last night in the hotel. I have a new one for all my family here. I practiced it last night for two hours.”

Valverde tends to kid, to the point where it’s sometimes difficult to determine when he’s serious. He sounded serious this time, because he said the same thing to somebody else.

Valverde to close for AL All-Stars, Avila bats ninth

When Jose Valverde went to the All-Star Game last year, AL manager Joe Girardi mentioned in a broadcast interview that Jose Valverde would probably be his closer. This year, the question came up in the All-Star press conference, and manager Ron Washington didn’t hesitate to name Valverde his guy in the ninth if the AL takes a lead into that inning.

Washington’s reasoning was simple: His bullpen has a lot of first-time All-Stars, and Valverde is the notable exception.

“For me, if you look at the All Star Game today, especially in the American League, there’s a lot of first time [All-Star pitchers],” Washington said. “There’s quite a few young arms in the American League at the back of the bullpen that saves the ballgames. And without Mariano [Rivera] here, I wanted to make sure that I have a veteran that can handle whatever pressures that the game may offer.  That’s why I chose Valverde.  So I protected myself in that way.

“But all of those arms are great arms, but once again, the youth is taking the American League by storm, and it’s a lot of first timers. I want to win bad, and I just want to make sure, once again, that I had someone that can withstand whatever heat is applied.”

Not only is Valverde the experienced closer on the staff, he has experience here. If he gets in, he’ll be pitching in the ballpark where his Major League career began years ago and where he came to prominence. He racked up 98 saves over five years in Arizona, including a league-best total of 47 in 2007. He also was just as animated as he is now.

Valverde pitched the ninth inning in last year’s game, but the AL was trailing at the time. He retired former teammate Chris Young and celebrated. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of reception he gets here Tuesday night if he enters with a save opportunity.

The other interesting factor, of course, is the workload he’s racking up. He closed four of the last five days for the Tigers, whose manager was concerned enough about him that he planned to rest him Saturday and Sunday. On Sunday, though, Valverde told Leyland he was ready, and Joaquin Benoit’s entry for the last out of the eighth pressed him into action.

Most likely, Alex Avila will not be catching him, since he probably won’t be in the game by then. He’s batting ninth in a stacked AL starting lineup.

Guillen’s rehab assignment continues

The Tigers announced today what the Toledo Blade reported last night: Carlos Guillen’s minor league rehab assignment is going to continue, at least through Thursday. His rehab assignment was transferred today to Double-A Erie, which finishes up its first half Monday night at Akron.

That’ll be it for Guillen’s time with the SeaWolves, who are on break Tuesday and Wednesday like everybody else. Come Thursday, Guillen will be a Mud Hen again, joining Triple-A Toledo for the start of the second half against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Thursday night at Fifth Third Field.

Nothing was announced after that. The Tigers will start their second half Friday night at Comerica Park against the White Sox.

Turner on call: “I really haven’t even thought about it”

Jacob Turner had just landed in Phoenix Saturday night when he learned about Charlie Furbush’s rough start at Kansas City and option back to Triple-A Toledo. He was not thinking he might be next in line in Detroit, he said.

“I really haven’t even thought about it like that,” Turner said Sunday afternoon from Chase Field, before he pitched two outs in the All-Star Futures Game. “Obviously I saw that Furbush got sent down, but he’s done really well up there. I think he had one bad outing. Right now I’m focused on whatever I can do to get better. I think the rest will take care of itself.”

Turner’s next pitching assignment is on Wednesday in New Hampshire, where he’s on the roster for the Eastern League All-Star Game. After that, he’s scheduled to start Erie’s fifth game out of the All-Star break, which would be next Monday. The Tigers have a TBA listed for that Wednesday. So far, there’s no indication he’s guy to make that start.

Turner does watch the Tigers, but it’s mainly to watch who’s in the rotation now, especially the guy at the top of it, Justin Verlander.

“I think I’ve watched every time he’s started,” Turner said. “It’s unbelievable, really. I watched his last outing. The stuff that he has and the command of the stuff, it’s something not seen out of any other big league starter out there right now.”

Turner talked a lot about the adjustments he has made facing Double-A hitters. His consistency, he believes, is getting better. So is his changeup.

“It’s getting better,” he said. “It’s something that’s been a big pitch for me recently. If I’m behind in the count or even if I need a strikeout or an easy ground ball, it’s something I can go to. I’m still working on learning to control it as consistently as I can control my fastball, but that’s been a big pitch for me. Obviously, it makes my fastball look a lot faster.”