Benoit: I never told Tigers I didn’t want to close
The Tigers continue to scout teams for potential bullpen help, including potential closer options, but they continue to be impressed with the way Joaquin Benoit has handled the job.
Benoit has opened some eyes with the way he has taken over the role, though he says he has never been told he’s the set closer. On the flip side, however, he sought to clarify a report that he told the Tigers in Spring Training that he didn’t want to close.
That tidbit was tucked in a report from CBSSports.com’s Danny Knobler that the Tigers have scouts this weekend watching the Marlins, Brewers, Padres, Mariners and Astros.
Benoit said Saturday the Tigers never asked him if he wanted to close. Any discussion, he said, centered on what his focus was in the spring. With the Tigers seemingly set on giving rookie Bruce Rondon the first chance to take the job, Benoit said he wasn’t thinking about winning the job.
“That was his show,” Benoit said of Rondon said. “They got Rondon. They wanted him to be the closer. After that, they never said anything about me or anybody else. …
“That’s the goal of everybody, to be in the position where everybody’s going to recognize you. If you ask anybody in the bullpen if they want to be the closer for the team, most of the answers are going to be yes, that they want to be [closing].”
That includes Benoit.
“Yes,” he said. “My position is that if you have a set role, I’m not going to jump in there and say, ‘Because I can do that, I want to do it.’ I mean, I know I can, but it’s not that I’m going to jump in there and say, ‘Take him out and I’m going to jump in.’”
In other words, Benoit wasn’t going to upset the apple cart and demand to close, and he still isn’t.
The only public remarks Benoit made about the closer’s job in Spring Training was that he felt it was better for the team to have a set closer rather than a bullpen by committee. Whoever the set closer was going to be, he said, was the team’s decision.
“I don’t care who’s going to be closing,” Benoit said. “As long as we have somebody that says this guy’s going to close the games, it’s going to be better for us because of the balance in the bullpen. It’s not going to make anybody anxious thinking, ‘OK, who’s going to close today?’ It makes it easier on everybody. Everybody can prepare for whatever situation you’re going to get into.”
He would like to have the closer’s role, and he thinks he can do it. Other than some minor differences, he doesn’t see much difference from his old role.
“What’s different? It’s probably good, it’s probably bad,” Benoit said. “On the road, I don’t know how many times I’m going to pitch. I don’t know how many times I’m going to warm up. Because in extra innings, I may have to be up in every inning. But [the pitching] is not different. If you can pitch in the eighth, I think you can pitch the ninth.”
One change that has taken place is that Benoit no longer loosens up in the fifth or sixth inning, a ritual he had for the first half of the season. He wants to save his throws and his arm to be ready to pitch four days or more in a row if need be.
If Benoit can show that durability, it would answer a major question about whether he can handle the job full-time down the stretch. Leyland has been hesitant to use Benoit three days in a row, given his injury history that includes career-threatening shoulder surgery in 2009.