June 20th, 2013
Matt Tuiasosopo was scheduled to get a rare start against a right-hander tonight, based on John Lackey’s success against left-handed hitters. Now, the Tigers have to hope they haven’t lost Tuiasosopo for a while after scratching him from the lineup with what was called a mild intercostal strain.
The injury hadn’t come up previously. It’s the same injury that sidelined Andy Dirks, ironically, for part of Spring Training. Dirks will bat in Tuiasosopo’s spot tonight, batting seventh.
The Tigers will face lefty Jon Lester on Friday, so if Tuiasosopo can’t go, Dirks would probably start in his place again.
- Austin Jackson, CF
- Torii Hunter, RF
- Miguel Cabrera, 3B
- Prince Fielder, 1B
- Victor Martinez, DH
- Jhonny Peralta, SS
- Andy Dirks, LF
- Omar Infante, 2B
- Brayan Pena, C
Before the Tigers called up Jose Valverde at the end of April, manager Jim Leyland didn’t have a set closer. However, he had Joaquin Benoit as his preferred option when he’s available.
Fast forward seven weeks, and Leyland sounds very much like he’s back to that setup.
“I’m not naming anybody closer,” Leyland said. “I’m just saying if Benoit was available right now, I would try to close with him.”
Benoit is available tonight, so if the Tigers have a lead in the ninth inning, look for Benoit. How he gets the lead to the ninth without Benoit in the eighth is another story, but he’ll deal with it.
“I’m not naming a full-time closer,” he said.
Essentially, it was the manager’s announcement of a shift that began taking shape last weekend, when Joaquin Benoit recorded the final four outs of last Sunday’s win at Minnesota. Leyland made it clear he won’t set up Benoit for four-out saves, but he had already been hinting last week that he was beginning to handle ninth-inning matchups situationally.
Benoit and his changeup, just as in April, give Leyland his best balance against right- and left-handed hitters. Left-handed hitters are 8-for-42 (.190) against him, while right-handed batters are 13-for-64 (.203).
“It’s a tough situation for the bullpen, not knowing who is going to close,” Benoit said. “Somehow [Leyland] will figure it out and we’ll get it done.”
What that leaves for Valverde is now a major question. If he isn’t closing full-time, it’s difficult to envision how the Tigers will use him. If he sticks around, it has to be with the possibility of closing again in mind.
Valverde was not in the closer mix Thursday, but that’s all Leyland would say about his role.
“What I’ll do is I’ll pitch him when I see fit, and try to do that intelligently,” Leyland said. “I don’t know exactly how it’ll work out, because I don’t know how the games are going to go.”
Valverde, for his part, was defiant about his struggles. Chris Davis’ home run Wednesday was Valverde’s sixth in 20 appearances this year; he hadn’t given up more than five in a full season since 2008.
“You have to give credit to the hitter, too,” he said. “There’s nothing you can do. Oh, when I’m pitching good all the time, when I have a save every single day, I’m the best guy? No. You have to give credit for all the players on the other team.”
Asked if he thinks he can regain his closer role, Valverde answered, “Why not? Have you seen all my numbers, what I have? I have [almost] 300 saves. It’s not easy to do that. You have to see all my numbers, what I do in the past.
“Everybody thinks I was doing bad last year. I had 35 saves in 40 chances. Is it bad? No.”
There are no indications a roster move with Valverde is imminent, but Valverde’s contract could force a decision. He has a $500,000 bonus that he reaches with his 25th game finished, then $500,000 for every five games finished after that. Wednesday’s ninth inning, though it wasn’t a save situation, was nonetheless his 18th game finished this year.
A day after Jim Leyland said he might consider giving Matt Tuiasosopo some starts against right-handers, he’s in the lineup against Red Sox righty John Lackey. Considering Lackey is giving up a .316 average to right-handed hitters compared with .203 to lefties, the matchup makes total sense, not just Tuiasosopo over the slumping Andy Dirks.
TIGERS (career numbers off Lackey)
- Austin Jackson, CF
- Torii Hunter, RF (11-for-49, 2 HR, 3 walks, 10 K’s)
- Miguel Cabrera, 3B (3-for-9, HR, walk, K)
- Prince Fielder, 1B (2-for-3)
- Victor Martinez, DH (10-for-23, 4 walks, 3 K’s)
- Jhonny Peralta, SS (11-for-28, 7 K’s)
- Matt Tuiasosopo, LF (0-for-3, K)
- Omar Infante, 2B (2-for-9, 6 K’s)
- Brayan Pena, C (2-for-3)
P: Jose Alvarez
- Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
- Shane Victorino, RF
- Dustin Pedroia, 2B
- David Ortiz, DH
- Mike Napoli, 1B
- Jonny Gomes, LF
- Ryan Lavarnway, C
- Will Middlebrooks, 3B
- Jose Iglesias, SS
P: John Lackey