Leyland supports Benoit, understands Berry questioning
All season long when Jim Leyland has been asked about Joaquin Benoit and using him in the eighth inning, Leyland has had pretty much the same thing. The eighth inning is Benoit’s inning, and except for a brief stint or days when he’s filling in for closer Jose Valverde, Benoit has been called on to protect leads in the eighth against left- and right-handed hitters alike.
When asked after Sunday’s 5-4 win over the A’s if he was concerned about Benoit, who gave up Josh Reddick’s go-ahead home run after Yoenis Cespedes stole two bases and scored on a wild pitch to tie it, Leyland said no.
“Not at all,” Leyland said. “I’m not concerned. He’s our guy. I totally believe in him. I totally believe in our entire bullpen, and that’s not going to change. That’s our team. That’s what we are. That’s what we are.
“And Benoit was fantastic 14 hours ago. So, no, I don’t have any questions about that whatsoever.”
Benoit protected a 3-1 lead Saturday night in Game 1 by retiring the side, but one of those outs was a Brandon Moss fly out to the right-field fence. It was a subtle reminder that Benoit led all American League relievers with 14 home runs allowed during the regular season. Six of them either erased a Tigers lead or moved the hitting team in front.
Cespedes’ run had already tied the game, of course, but Reddick’s home run off a hanging changeup moved Oakland ahead, temporarily at least. It capped a seven-pitch at-bat during which Reddick, who had six strikeouts — one from Benoit Saturday night — and a walk in his previous seven plate appearances in the series, fouled off back-to-back 1-2 pitches to stay alive.
Just two baserunners attempted steals on Benoit in the regular season. Chris Getz swiped second on May 2. Alex Avila threw out Jason Kipnis with Benoit pitching Sept. 4.
Leyland said he was not tempted at all to use Phil Coke against Moss and Reddick. One possible reason, not mentioned there but referenced pregame: The presence of Chris Carter and Jonny Gomes on the bench as right-handed hitters presents a bigger potential problem.
“I don’t think when we have the lead in the eighth inning, Benoit is our guy [just] just a righty/lefty,” Leyland said. “The reason he’s our guy is because he can throw it 95 and he has a great changeup that’s very difficult to pick up. We’re not going to change anything now. …
“He’s our eighth-inning guy. It’s that simple. It’s been that way since he’s been here.”
The decision in the bottom of the inning, trying to manufacture a tying run with an Andy Dirks sacrifice bunt and Quintin Berry pinch-hitting for Avisail Garcia, on the other hand, was a little more open for Leyland, who admitted considering using Alex Avila to hit for Garcia instead of waiting a batter and hitting him for Laird.
“That’s a very good question,” Leyland said. “That’s one of those catch-22s. I wasn’t sure if they would walk Alex. I felt like Berry had a better chance of slapping the ball somewhere and not striking out … than Alex. That’s why I hit him first.”
Berry, of course, struck out on three pitches. He went 7-for-16 with a runner on third and two outs during the regular season, striking out only once. Postseason, of course, is different.