Leyland will look to close with Benoit (updated)
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.