Results tagged ‘ Joaquin Benoit ’

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.

Benoit jumps to third in AL Final Vote

Don’t write off Joaquin Benoit from the AL All-Star Final Vote just yet. After passing Boston’s Koji Uehara and moving into third in the standings, he’s now on the outskirts of the back-and-forth duel between Toronto’s Steve Delabar and New York’s David Robertson, close enough that he looks like he has a real shot at this.

Benoit clearly seems to be benefiting from the Tigers-Giants partnership for a Benoit-Hunter Pence ticket. A look at the county-by-county breakdown shows that Benoit now is getting most of the vote in central and northern California, in counties that weren’t trending his way Tuesday morning. Pence doesn’t seem to be getting the same bump in Tigers, territory, though; most of Michigan seems to be trending towards Yasiel Puig.

(By the way, as workday time-wasters go, the county-by-county breakdown is excellent. You can lose a chunk of the afternoon looking up random counties where Benoit leads. I had no idea there was an Idaho County in Idaho.)

You have until Thursday at 4pm ET to vote at tigers.com/vote. In addition, you can vote on Twitter from 10am to 4pm on Thursday just by using the hashtag #BackBenoit.

Early notes: Boesch day-to-day with oblique tightness

It’s all relative, but it’s a chilly morning by Florida standards in Lakeland, where Bruce Rondon is scheduled to throw to hitters this afternoon. One hitter who will not be taking part today is Brennan Boesch, who tweaked his right oblique while taking swings on Saturday.

It’s a precautionary move, Boesch said. Better to miss a few days now and be ready when games begin next weekend than to have this linger. Remember, Boesch was bothered by minor injuries last spring training, including lower back soreness and a bad ankle.

“It’s February. I don’t want to take any chances right now,” Boesch said. “Get it over with so I can get plenty of at-bats in Spring Training. …

“I’m optimistic I’ll be out there in the next day or two. The most important thing is not rushing it so I get all the at-bats I need in spring to compete and to prepare for the season.”

Other notes from Sunday morning:

  • Look for the Tigers to get Rule 5 pick Jeff Kobernus some time in left field this spring as they try to determine just how useful the speedy right-handed hitter can be as a utility player. Kobernus was almost exclusively a second baseman in the Nationals system the last four years, but said he did outfield work this winter to prepare. With his speed and his success against left-handed pitching in the minors (.326 last year at Double-A Harrisburg, .306 at Harrisburg in 2011), he definitely has manager Jim Leyland’s attention. “I think he’s a very interesting guy,” Leyland said, “and he will definitely get every possible look to see if he’s a fit or not.”
  • Leyland says they have 15 legitimate candidates for the bullpen, including sure things like Joaquin Benoit, Phil Coke and Octavio Dotel. It’s a good number to have, and potentially could give them some options at the end of camp as well as into the season, but the closer question is going to have an impact throughout the bullpen unless they have one guy who can take hold of the job.

Benoit update: Sore, but not injured

Normally, an eighth-inning lead belongs to Joaquin Benoit when he’s available, so Jim Leyland raised eyebrows Tuesday when he went to Octavio Dotel to handle the eighth inning and carry the lead to closer Jose Valverde. Leyland explained after the game that Benoit had some soreness around his right shoulder.

“He’s been a little sore, but he’s ok. No red flags,” Leyland said.

It’s similar, Leyland said, to a minor issue he had last year. Leyland said he gave him two days off at the time and he felt fine afterwards. Tuesday marked his second consecutive day off, Leyland expects to have him for Wednesday. He could have pitched Tuesday if needed, Leyland said, but he wanted to avoid it if he could.

Benoit leaves with forearm tightness

Joaquin Benoit rescued the Tigers in the seventh inning Saturday by stranding two runners on after Phil Coke had allowed back-to-back singles. He did not come out for the eighth inning, leaving Octavio Dotel to face left-handed hitters with a one-run lead.

There’s a reason for that: Benoit, as it turned out, became the latest Tigers injury.

“I’m more worried about Benoit than I am anybody else right now,” manager Jim Leyland said, “because when he threw that pitch that went up against the screen, when [Alex Rodriguez] called time and he threw the pitch, he got some tightness there. It tightened up on him pretty badly. So that’s the one that’s got me concerned because we’ve been pretty much snake-bitten.”

Leyland pointed to his forearm to indicate where the tightness popped up. That kind of arm injury will get any manager concerned.

Benoit has been on a roll of late, striking out 23 batters over 15 1/3 innings in his last 16 appearances, while allowing four runs on 11 hits. He has been the strongest part of the Tigers’ late-inning relief corps. Leyland has survived with a short bench the last several days, but he would have a tougher time protecting leads without Benoit.

The Tigers should know more about Benoit’s situation on Sunday morning. With Justin Verlander starting, they’re a little better equipped to give Benoit a day to rest and recuperate if need be.

Leyland did not put any blame on Rodriguez for calling time out when he did.

“I don’t know that there’s a late time call,” Leyland said. “It really doesn’t make any difference. I’m not looking to blame anybody, it’s just one of those things that happened.”

With bullpen gassed, it’s Verlander or bust

The Tigers’ postseason hopes are going to ride or die with Justin Verlander.

With manager Jim Leyland ruling out both closer Jose Valverde and setup man Joaquin Benoit after three straight days of pitching, the only opponent that’s going to knock Verlander out of Game 5 in the American League Championship Series is his own pitch count.

It’s the opposite approach to the quick hook many managers use in elimination games in the postseason. But with a 24 regular-season wins, a pitching Triple Crown and a very strong case for AL MVP, he isn’t a typical pitcher, even in an elimination game.

“The only thing I’m worried today is his pitch count,” Leyland said Thursday morning. “I’m not worried about the results. If he gives up some runs, he gives up some runs. That’s just the way it is. Too bad, and [in that case] we’ll probably get beat.”

Given the pitch counts Verlander has piled up this season, he’s going to be out there a while. The only real concern Leyland cited is if Verlander throws a lot of pitches in the early innings and struggles to conserve pitches through the middle innings.

The only reliever Leyland mentioned by name for being on call today is left-hander Phil Coke, who mopped up the 11th inning Wednesday night after Nelson Cruz’s three-run homer gave the Rangers their 7-3 lead.

Leyland said Coke could pitch two innings “if he has to.”

“I hope he doesn’t have to,” Leyland said. “If he has to, we’re probably not going to win.”

In other words, Leyland continued, “I’m hoping Verlander can give us nine [innings].”

Verlander has thrown 13 innings over three starts this postseason, but two of those were shortened by rain. The one that wasn’t came in Game 3 of the AL Division Series against the Yankees, and he delivered eight innings of four-run ball in that outing.

Valverde not only pitched three straight days, his limit during the regular season, he pitched multiple innings in two of those. His second inning of work Wednesday night was his downfall, giving up three hits and an intentional walk that led to four runs, three of them on Cruz’s homer.

When Leyland was asked about Valverde’s availability before Game 4, he had a one-word answer: “Postseason.”

Even the postseason, however, has its limits.

“I’m not pitching either one of them,” Leyland said. “Valverde’s going to say that he’s OK, but I’m not pitching him. We’re going to get somebody hurt if we’re not careful. We’ve got a guy that saved 51 games in a row, and you’ve got an option on him. I mean, people can bark, but they’re pitching on fumes and heart right now.”

No on Verlander, very much yes on Scherzer

Justin Verlander threw his side session in the visiting bullpen at Yankee Stadium earlier today, well before batting practice. If you were still hoping, after all that Jim Leyland has said the last couple days about not using him in Game 5, that he would be available in relief tonight, that’s definitive news that he won’t.  If he was going to pitch in relief, the Tigers would have held him back from his side session and saved those throws. The fact that he threw today means the Tigers want him ready for Game 1 of the ALCS, if they get there.

Max Scherzer is another story. Leyland told reporters after his press conference that Scherzer told pitching coach Jeff Jones he felt he could throw 100 pitches tonight. Doesn’t mean he will, obviously, but it means he has a fresh arm if they need it.

“If we need to go long, I’m going to go to Scherzer,” Leyland said. “If we get to the late innings, I’m going to [Joaquin] Benoit and [Jose] Valverde. It’s that simple. If I need Coke to get one lefty out in a big situation, I would probably go to him. Other than that, you would probably not see any other pitchers tonight. If you do, we got beat.”

In fact, if Leyland has to go to his bullpen in the middle innings, he might turn to Scherzer.

If the Tigers use any relievers besides those four, and it isn’t extra innings, it’s not a good sign.

What is going on with Benoit?

Before we get into dissecting Joaquin Benoit, let’s make something clear: Anyone who expected Benoit to duplicate his 2010 numbers from Tampa Bay was kidding themselves. When we point out that Benoit already has given up four more earned runs than he did all of last year, it’s almost more for entertainment purposes, because those numbers were ridiculously good. The fact that he’s now more than two-thirds of the way to his 2010 hit total in about a quarter of the innings is more concerning, because it’s more relevant, but that’s a little deceptive, too.

Also worth noting: Nobody, and I mean NOBODY, was a Brandon Lyon fan at this point in 2009. He had allowed 12 earned runs on 16 hits over 15 2/3 innings then, including 11 walks. He gave up just 40 hits over 63 innings with 20 walks and 52 strikeouts after that, and then was paid handsomely on the open market.

Got it? Good. Now, what the heck is going on with Benoit?

“If I would know that, I would give you an answer,” Benoit said. “I’m trying to figure it out.”

To Benoit’s credit, he stood in front of TV cameras and microphones and answered all the questions asked of him, which lasted a little more than three minutes. He didn’t have a whole lot of answers, but he tried.

“I’m probably giving the hitters more credit than what they deserve,” Benoit said later. “I’m probably throwing the pitch that they’re looking for, and in their location. There’s not much I can do when that happens. It’s wrong pitch selection.”

Manager Jim Leyland and pitching coach Rick Knapp have a little different take. To Knapp, pitch selection and pitch execution are pretty good. Pitch location is not.

“I can’t figure out what’s going on,” Leyland said, “because we don’t see anything that indicates something wrong, with the exception that he’s just [not] locating the ball. He’s just not getting the ball where he’s trying to throw it, it looks like to me. The velocity is certainly OK, but it looks to me like he’s not locating the ball where he’s trying to get it for some reason. That means you’re out of sync or something, and he has been for a few times out now.”

Benoit agreed that his health is fine.

“I mean, I’m pitching,” Benoit said. “I have my velocity. Things are not going right.”

He does not have his location, for whatever reason. Or at least, he has it inconsistently. The game-turning double from Aaron Hill came in a five-pitch at-bat that started off with two nasty pitches to put Hill in an 0-2 hole. He pitched to catcher Alex Avila’s mitt on the next two pitches, but Hill didn’t chase.

The last pitch, the 2-2 pitch, was supposed to be low and away. It was up and over the plate.

“He made four pitches to Hill that were good,” pitching coach Rick Knapp said. “The fifth one’s bad. He just missed the spot.”

Knapp has his own ideas why.

“Is it mechanics? I don’t think it’s mechanics,” Knapp said. “I think it’s just confidence. Throw the ball down isn’t really something you can think about. You have to leverage it that way. You have to know that you’re going to throw the ball down and not have to think about it. When you have to think about it, then you have a better chance to make a mistake. And that’s kind of about where he’s at right now. He’s trying to execute pitches maybe too hard and he’s not.”

Both Knapp and Benoit said they felt his previous outing last week at Minnesota was a big step forward. He gave up three hits over 1 1/3 innings and a game-tying run that was unearned thanks to a double-error play, but he also kept the Twins from pulling ahead with help from two eighth-inning strikeouts.

When he’s on, he’s a swing-and-miss pitcher more than a contact pitcher.

“It was really better in Minnesota,” Benoit said.

Knapp believed the Minnesota outing was something to build on.

“I think Minnesota was a good positive stepping point,” Knapp said. “It just didn’t work out for him tonight. He’ll get more opportunities. It’s one of those deals where you have to execute to get confidence. Confidence isn’t something that you’re going to just show up with. It isn’t something that just walks through the door. You have your swagger, but I think right now he’s a little bit in his own head.”

Just about everyone was asked whether the three-year, $16.5 million contract, and the pressure to pitch up to it, could be contributing to that.

“I’ll answer that by saying I don’t know the answer to that,” Leyland said. “Something’s not right. He’s obviously a little frustrated, trying to do too much. That’s a possibility. That’s something we’ll have to look at it. He’s an important piece of the puzzle, but we’re going to have to look at it and figure something out. I’ll have to figure out the strategic part.”

Benoit had that question posed as well.

“There’s always pressure when you’re pitching and you don’t perform to the level that everybody expected,” he said.

Said Knapp: “I don’t know that he’d be out there in those situations if he didn’t perform like he did the year before. He deserves what he got [contractually]. Like I said, we need him to be good — not great, just good.

“I know it isn’t because he’s not trying. He’s digging in. He’s looking at tape. He’s trying to feel it, trying to make sure. There’s a fine line between trying to do too much and maybe his stuff dropping off. I don’t think it’s a stuff issue. I think his stuff is fine. I think now we have to get him zeroed in on hitting the glove, staying on the spot, executing the pitch he’s trying to make.

“I think everybody wants him to perform, nobody moreso than him. Like I said, I don’t see the stuff falling off. I see him missing his spots, which means we’re getting closer to where we need to be.”

Your guide to Tigers reliever nicknames

And you thought the Tigers bullpen lost its character when Phil Coke became a starter.

Daniel Schlereth is out there, and as it turns out, he’s a character. So is Brad Thomas, and so, apparently, is Brayan Villarreal.

Schlereth announced today that he wants to be known by his nickname, the Alaskan Assassin. He was born in Anchorage, so that makes sense. He also has been nicknamed the Baby Black Bear.

I told him that could be quite a tandem, the Alaskan Assassin and Agent P, otherwise known as Ryan Perry, or the Platypus. But Perry has earned a new nickname in the Tigers bullpen. After his DL stint with an eye infection, he’s now known as Cyclops.

On down the line it went. Brayan Villarreal? He’s known as Zorro, Schlereth said, because of the hair.

Al Alburquerque? Schlereth didn’t have one for him, but Villarreal said he’s known as Avatar, after the characters from the movie.

Jose Valverde? They don’t really need a nickname, or at least they don’t dare put one of him. But when Big Potato was mentioned, Valverde nodded in approval.

Brad Thomas? Nothing. They just make fun of the Aussie accent.

Joaquin Benoit? Nothing yet.

Offbeat? You bet. But look at it this way: It sure beats those mohawk haircuts Tigers relievers had last year around this time.

Lefty relief not a pressing priority right now

The Tigers have been touching base with agents for left-handed relievers and keeping tabs on the market, but the impression among folks at the Winter Meetings is that they’re not going to move on anybody in that category anytime soon. They’ve shown some interest in free agents J.C. Romero and Ron Mahay, according to sources, but nothing has gotten far. Given Dave Dombrowski’s recent remarks that Daniel Schlereth could be their No. 1 lefty reliever, it seems to reinforce that notion.

As I’ve written before, the free-agent market has had no shortage of left-handers available late in the winter as Spring Training approaches. Though Detroit’s deal for Joaquin Benoit brought some question whether the market would speed up, that doesn’t seem to be the case for left-handers.

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