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.