Game 158: As the Tigers bullpen turns
For the second time in six weeks, Joaquin Benoit delivered eight outs over two nights. Except for one fastball over the plate that Brian Dozier jumped Monday night, he would’ve gotten back-to-back saves out of it.
That kind of workload is something Leyland rarely does with Benoit until the postseason. He did it once last year, and that was during a busy June that set up his spat of home runs around midseason. Expect him to be called upon for a four- or five-out save at some point in the playoffs if the Tigers make another run, because of how much pressure rests on each game.
Benoit knows it, and he knows he needs to be able to do it. As much as he wanted to be out there Tuesday after the blown save on Monday and give the team some reassurance, he knew it would be a test for him.
“It was really challenging for me coming back — 1 2/3 yesterday, coming back and throwing one inning today,” Benoit said. “It was good.”
He wasn’t the only one reassuring. Bruce Rondon returned to the Tigers bullpen after three weeks working back from a tender elbow, promptly entered a big game in the eighth inning, and had to show what he has at this point. The 101 mph fastball is still there. The slider, a pitch that puts stress on the elbow, might have looked better than ever.
Even he wasn’t sure how it would turn out, but he couldn’t have been happier with the results: 10 pitches, 3 strikeouts.
Rondon said he felt “a little bit weird, a little bit tight” on his first few pitches before he settled in. He also felt somewhat scared about throwing his slider because of the elbow — until he saw the results.
He’s not going to replace Jose Veras in the eighth inning, no matter how much frustration fans might have over the results lately. But if he’s back as an option, whether for a batter or an inning, he has the chance to be a major factor in the postseason. For him, too, Tuesday was a test.
“I wanted to see if he threw it over the plate or around the plate,” Leyland said. “The only thing I was concerned about was the control because he hadn’t pitched in so long, but it set up just right for him, the lineup did, because you had three right-handers in a row there. So we couldn’t ask for anything better.
“If we don’t get [him] through it there, then we don’t get through it. But I was impressed with the fact that he threw the ball over the plate and around the plate, and he got them speeding the bat up to catch up with the fastball and the slider was very effective.”