Game 19: The return of the Big Potato
I have no idea how Jose Valverde’s return is going to work out. For people to look at Valverde not throwing a splitter on Wednesday night and point out that October weather is cold in Detroit, too, requires a huge presumption about Valverde closing.
This wasn’t a move made for October. The Tigers can find a closer for October at the Trade Deadline if they don’t think they have that guy in house then. This was a move made for now.
What I know is that the Tigers did not want to continue with a bullpen by committee. They wanted a set closer. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have scouted Jose Valverde a couple days after sending Bruce Rondon to Triple-A Toledo at the end of Spring Training, and a couple days before the season began in Minnesota.
This wasn’t an indictment of how Joaquin Benoit was pitching, or even about how Phil Coke was pitching. Once the Tigers signed Valverde to a minor-league contract, the question was simply whether he was pitching better than he did last year. Once they saw that, they didn’t need to run him through the motions at Triple-A Toledo. They saw all they needed.
Say what you will about the case for using your bullpen situationally the whole way through, using your best reliever in the eighth inning for the middle of an opponent’s lineup if those are the toughest outs. The Tigers were never going to be in that school of thought, right or wrong.
“Ideally, you’d like to have a one-person closer at the end of the game with a good club,” team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski told the Detroit Economic Club on Wednesday at their annual luncheon. “We looked at some different alternatives. It really didn’t fall into place with getting that one person.”
Jim Leyland can play matchups, but he feels better playing them from the sixth inning through the eighth than doing it into the ninth too.
That showed on Wednesday. With the ninth inning set, he used Al Alburquerque in the sixth inning for just the second time this season. He played the matchups in using Benoit against Mike Moustakas with two outs in the seventh, not only because Moustakas had good numbers against Phil Coke, but because he knew he’d want Benoit against the right-handed hitters that followed anyway.
With the ninth inning set, no matter who’s up, it lets Leyland focus on matchups with the seventh and eighth. With the ninth inning set, it lets Leyland avoid wondering what he’ll do if the leadoff man reaches base in the ninth.
Is Valverde the man for that long term? No idea. He’s the man for now, and they’ll see how it works out. Remember, Santiago Casilla was closing games for the Giants at this time last year. The Tigers are on the hook for Valverde for just $2 million guaranteed, and have $3 million more tied to incentives. If they decide they want to go in a different direction this summer, they can. If they decide Bruce Rondon is ready in the summer, they can go that way, too. If they like what they see with Valverde, they can say he’s their guy and gear their bullpen around him.
Valverde’s stuff at least gives them hope he can handle the job right now. The fastball has new life. Whether it’ll have that same life after a couple months of closing, nobody really knows. If it does, the Tigers have to like what they have. If it doesn’t, the Tigers don’t have to sit around hating it.
One more note, and an ironic one at that: If one believes in the notion that any decent reliever can get you at least 25 saves without much problem, as one scout floated this spring, then one should believe that if Valverde has better stuff than he did at the end of last year, he can handle the job. Of course, if you believe in that theory, then you probably tuned out this closer debate a long time ago. Time will tell.