What to make of Tigers bullpen after Game 1
If there was any bright side for the Tigers to take out of their 8-3 loss in Game 1 of the World Series, it’s that they have a much better idea who they can use in late-inning situations in their bullpen. That’s the bright side. The flip side is that it’s far tougher to see Jose Valverde being one of them.
Valverde, who never lacks for confidence, told reporters after the game that the adjustments he made last week worked, and that he threw better pitches against the Giants than he did in his blown save against the A’s and blown lead against the Yankees. The results, he had to admit, were terrible, with a double and three straight singles after he struck out Tim Lincecum.
“Everything’s working good for me,” Valverde said. “I have my sinker, my split, my cutter, everything good so far. You have to give credit to the hitters: Sandoval, Pagan, Scutaro, Posey. They hit my best pitches.”
Or as he said later, “My mechanics are good, and all my pitches are working. That’s what I want.”
Jim Leyland, who has stood by Valverde through his struggles and reminded people what Valverde has done for them over the last few years, didn’t see it that way.
“You know, he wasn’t terrible. He just wasn’t good,” Leyland said. “For whatever reason it just doesn’t seem to be coming out quite right, although he did have a few 93s, a couple 93s, 92, 93.
“You know, it’s a little bit puzzling, to be honest with you. It looks like it’s just not quite exploding. But that’s pretty much all I can say about that.”
That soon after the game, there was no question asked about how Leyland would handle a save situation going forward. But it might have been fitting that as Valverde left the mound, Joaquin Benoit was coming in.
Benoit struck out Hunter Pence on a slider, then hit 97 mph — a rare range for him — on a fastball to strike out Brandon Belt. Benoit said after the game he wasn’t working on anything in particular in his first outing since Game 1 of the ALCS. He was just getting the rust off. He wasn’t seen throwing a lot of side sessions with pitching coach Jeff Jones watching. He hasn’t been giving up a ton of hits so much as the hits he has given up lately — all year, actually, if you look at the stats — have been huge.
If there’s a save situation with right-handed hitters coming up, it’s a lot easier to envision Benoit coming up than Valverde. Valverde thrived for the better part of two years on missing the middle of the plate more than any particular out pitch, and he wasn’t missing with nearly as much success Wednesday night. You wonder if Valverde might get another shot to show something in a game that’s out of reach, but there’s a real question how Leyland could use him otherwise.
This is the scenario Leyland was afraid of, have a short bullpen with somebody you can’t use. He can get through it if his starters go deep into games like they did in the ALCS, but if the Giants are fouling off pitches and working counts this series like they did against Verlander — no one- or two-pitch at-bats at all — the bullpen is going to have to cover some serious ground. Having a six-man bullpen instead of seven, and not having a set closer, puts more stress on a lot of guys. Leyland might still take another chance to try to make Valverde useful, even if it’s just earlier situations. But if the game gets out of hand again where Leyland can do that, the Tigers have a lot more trouble than their bullpen.