Results tagged ‘ Jose Valverde ’

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.

Valverde wins MLB Delivery Man of the Year

When it comes to naming the best closer of the season, it’s hard to beat perfection.

Statistically, Jose Valverde had it, going 49-for-49 in save opportunities. Now, he has the Major League Baseball Delivery Man of the Year award to go with it. He becomes just the second Tiger ever to win the annual honor for the game’s most outstanding relief pitcher.

Valverde didn’t win any of the six Delivery Man of the Month awards. There was always somebody with a better performance over the short term. For the entire season, however, Valverde’s performance ranks among the best of all time.

Only former Dodgers great Eric Gagne saved more games without blowing an opportunity than Valverde, whose 49 regular-season saves obliterated Guillermo Hernandez’s franchise record of 32 straight saves in 1984. He also toppled Todd Jones as the Tigers’ single-season saves king.

Jones set a Tigers record with 42 saves in 2000, earning himself what was then called the Rolaids Relief Man of the Year award. He paid Valverde high honors Tuesday night by impersonating Valverde’s save celebration after throwing out the ceremonial first pitch prior to Game 4 of the AL Championship Series at Comerica Park.

“I think we’re both right-handed, but I think after that, the comparisons kind of go away,” Jones said. “Jose has had an amazing year. He’s an amazing closer. People don’t really realize how hard 50 out of 50 saves is until you watched me or had a chance to go out there yourself.

“He’s a fierce competitor, and I think everybody enjoys him in the clubhouse. Everybody on the team has said nothing but great things. He’s just had an amazing year.”

Valverde posted a 2-4 record and a 2.24 ERA, allowing 52 hits over 72 1/3 innings with 34 walks and 69 strikeouts. Opponents batted just .198 against him, demonstrating what manager Jim Leyland has called a tremendous ability to keep hitters from centering his pitches.

In just save situations, the numbers were even more formidable, with just three runs allowed on 26 hits over 49 innings with 20 walks and 50 strikeouts. Two of those runs scored on home runs.

Those numbers complemented the bottom line, the saves converted. Though Milwaukee’s John Axford, Atlanta rookie Craig Kimbrel and Pittsburgh’s Joel Hanrahan received votes, they weren’t going to beat out Valverde.

The results for a Tigers team that won its first division title since 1987 provided the substance behind a style that has made Valverde one of the game’s unique personalities. Time and again, his save celebrations have delighted fans and irked opponents, whether it was a crossing of his arms or a dance around the mound. His superstitions before he throws a pitch have become ingrained in Tigers fans’ memories.

“I don’t know what I do [after the game],” Valverde said earlier this year. “You guys can tell me what I do, but I don’t know. Somebody told me you do something different. I told him I have no idea what I’m doing. I swear to God. When I’m pitching, I’m not paying attention to what I’m doing. My mind is on doing my job quick and that’s it.”

For all the celebration he displays puts on a save, Valverde has downplayed every individual honor that has come his way this year. His goal, he said, is for the team, not himself.

“I’m not looking at what I do this year,” he said. “What I look at all the time is how my team’s doing. I have to figure out how to win the game, enjoy the game. My numbers stay over there. If we go to the World Series, we’ll remember this for a very long time.”

When the Big Potato speaks …

So, did Jose Valverde just guarantee the Tigers would win the Division Series?

To the English-speaking reporters, at least, he came close.

“It’ s over,” Valverde told a crowd of reporters after the game. “Tomorrow’s the second game, and when’s the last game? Tuesday? Tuesday’s the celebration. …

Wait, what?

“I’m just kidding, guys,” he said, laughing out loud like somebody pulling a gag.

And that’s how we all took it. Another reporter double-checked the quote with me and another reporter who was there. I listened to it about a dozen times, remembered the laugh I saw, and came to that quote. So did several other writers.

To the Spanish-speaking reporters, supposedly, it was a little different. Here’s what ESPN Deportes’ Enrique Rojas is reporting Valverde told them:

“I think the series will finish in our house. They have a good team, but the series is not (coming) back to New York.”

That report said Valverde did not indicate he was kidding.

So which one is accurate? Well, here’s the problem: It’s hard sometimes to tell when Valverde is joking and when he’s serious.

When Valverde gives the belly laugh, that’s usually a sign he’s joking. That’s what we got when he said it. That’s what I got at the All-Star Game when he suggested he was coming up with a new dance to celebrate a save in the Midsummer Classic if he got. We never got to find out if he was serious about that one.

It’s hard for me to tell what signals he gave the Spanish-speaking reporters when I wasn’t there — or even if I was there.

Valverde has said at least twice this season, as far back as midseason, that he believes the Tigers have the best team in the American League. So he isn’t exactly hurting for confidence in his squad. On the other hand, he was laughing and joking around about how he thought he had that win tonight wrapped up.

As for the series being over, I’ll say this: It does not sound like a guarantee a closer would be making after coming within a hit of watching a four-run lead disappear in the ninth inning.

Valverde goes 40-for-40, sore back and all

If you were expecting a special celebration for Jose Valverde going 40-for-40 on save chances, you were probably a little disappointed. If you were expecting drama, you weren’t.

One out away from an orderly ninth  inning, Chris Getz’s single put the potential tying run on base. One strike away from leaving him at first, Valverde couldn’t get pinch-hitter Brayan Pena to chase fastball outside.

That was partly by design. It wasn’t an intentional walk, but it was essentially the Tigers opting to face Alcides Escobar instead. Manager Jim Leyland had gone to the mound after a first-pitch ball to give his closer a message.

“Pena was 3-for-4 off him,” Leyland said, “So I just told him, ‘Look, whatever you do, don’t give in to him. If you walk him, I don’t care. … If you get behind, whatever you do, don’t throw strikes.'”

Valverde wanted to face him. Once the count went full, however, he didn’t risk it.

“Everybody knows Pena has good power, and I threw a sinker away,” Valverde said. “That’s what I had to do, and face Escobar. Everybody knows Escobar is a good player, but he doesn’t have the power that Pena has.”

Escobar had enough power to loft a fly ball into right field. He did not have enough power to make a threat out of it.

With that, Valverde had his 40th, the longest streak ever by an American League closer to start a season. The only longer streaks both come from the National League — 55 by Eric Gagne in 2003, and 41 from Brad Lidge in 2008.

Stretch streaks into multiple seasons, and Valverde’s 42 consecutive saves put him alone in fourth place on the all-time list. Gagne saved 84 in a row from 2002-04, Tom Gordon had 54 in 1998-99, and Lidge saved 47 straight from the end of 2007 until the start of 2009.

It was a rather subdued celebration from Valverde, who admitted he has been dealing with a sore back.

“My boy here, [Joaquin] Benoit, I made him a promise,” Valverde said. “I said if I do 50, I’ll do something special. … I promise, if I get 50, I’ll have something special for you.”

If he gets there, hopefully, his back should be fine. It’s still a little issue, Valverde said, but nothing serious.

“What I want to do is compete all the time. … I want to go on the mound every day, no matter what happens,” Valverde said. “My back, my neck, my arm, I want to compete and go to play for my teammates.”

Was Aybar right to bunt?

There were plenty of contentious topics coming out of Sunday’s win, from what seemed like a misunderstanding from Jered Weaver over Magglio Ordonez’s home run to what looked like a threat from Justin Verlander to get Erick Aybar next year after keeping his poise on the mound all day. But one of the lingering questions was Aybar’s bunt leading off the eighth inning, and whether he violated baseball’s unwritten rulebook doing it.

Verlander tried to look at both sides, but the pitcher in him couldn’t hide his disdain for it.

“Very surprised,” Verlander said after the game. “It’s a three-run game, a close game, but there’s arguments both ways. Obviously, from a pitching standpoint, that’s kind of, we like to call it bush league. But there’s arguments both sides of it. It’s a three run game, if you get a guy on base, you never know what can happen. Those things work themselves out.”

Later, he tweaked his answer, albeit slightly.

“From a pitcher’s perspective, yes,” Verlander said when asked if that play was wrong. “From the Angels’ perspective, I doubt they feel that way. It’s a three-run game. You never know what can happen if you get a guy on base. I know there’s probably two vastly different opinions on that based on which side of the locker room you’re on right now.”

That would be correct, though both managers said Aybar had the right to try it.

“Beautiful play,” manager Jim Leyland said. “I’ll be in the minority with the people who didn’t like that, I disagree with that totally. They’ve got a good team with a lot of speed. They’re trying to win a pennant, just like we, are I don’t have any problem with that play whatsoever. He’s trying to get on base and as it turned out, it was a big play for them because that was one that got it going for them. I have no problem with that. That’s baseball. You’re supposed to play the game right. They play the game right.”

The score at the time, obviously, is the key.

“That’s a great baseball play,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “If the score’s 10-0, obviously it’s a different situation. We’re trying to get that trying run to the plate. Leading off an inning, you use whatever weapon you have.”

Closer Jose Valverde said it basically depends on which team you’re following.

“You know, it’s baseball,” he said. “There’s nothing you can do. Everything tries to do the most they can. Aybar, that’s part of his game. Everybody plays a different game. Do I like it? No, I don’t like it, because I want my guy to throw a no-hitter. But everybody plays a different game. There’s nothing you can do about that. If I play for Anaheim, I don’t like what Carlos did. But I like it, because Carlos plays on my team.”

Aybar’s response was pretty much on that point.

“That’s my game,” he said. “I don’t have a problem with that. Verlander was great today. So we tried to get back [into the game].”

New celebration in store for Valverde All-Star save?

Jose Valverde was talking today about what it means to come back to Arizona and get a chance to save a game, and he was smiling.

“This is where I started playing baseball,” Valverde said. “This is where I threw my first pitch in that stadium. I have good friends. I have exciting moments in that stadium.”

That, of course, set up the logical question: Did Valverde celebrate his saves the same here?

“I think I had more here,” he said. “I don’t know. You can ask my boy Tony Clark. He’s here.”

Clark is a former Tiger, of course, but he was also a teammate of Valverde in Arizona when Valverde first came up.

“He was consistent,” Clark said.

Valverde celebrated a bit in last year’s All-Star Game after he retired the side in the 9th inning with the American League trailing. If he closes down the game Tuesday — AL manager Ron Washington said he’ll turn to Valverde if there’s a save chance — he almost has to bring out his celebration. His former fans in Arizona would expect no less.

“Oh, yeah,” Valverde said. “I have a new one for tomorrow. I practiced it last night in the hotel. I have a new one for all my family here. I practiced it last night for two hours.”

Valverde tends to kid, to the point where it’s sometimes difficult to determine when he’s serious. He sounded serious this time, because he said the same thing to somebody else.

Valverde to close for AL All-Stars, Avila bats ninth

When Jose Valverde went to the All-Star Game last year, AL manager Joe Girardi mentioned in a broadcast interview that Jose Valverde would probably be his closer. This year, the question came up in the All-Star press conference, and manager Ron Washington didn’t hesitate to name Valverde his guy in the ninth if the AL takes a lead into that inning.

Washington’s reasoning was simple: His bullpen has a lot of first-time All-Stars, and Valverde is the notable exception.

“For me, if you look at the All Star Game today, especially in the American League, there’s a lot of first time [All-Star pitchers],” Washington said. “There’s quite a few young arms in the American League at the back of the bullpen that saves the ballgames. And without Mariano [Rivera] here, I wanted to make sure that I have a veteran that can handle whatever pressures that the game may offer.  That’s why I chose Valverde.  So I protected myself in that way.

“But all of those arms are great arms, but once again, the youth is taking the American League by storm, and it’s a lot of first timers. I want to win bad, and I just want to make sure, once again, that I had someone that can withstand whatever heat is applied.”

Not only is Valverde the experienced closer on the staff, he has experience here. If he gets in, he’ll be pitching in the ballpark where his Major League career began years ago and where he came to prominence. He racked up 98 saves over five years in Arizona, including a league-best total of 47 in 2007. He also was just as animated as he is now.

Valverde pitched the ninth inning in last year’s game, but the AL was trailing at the time. He retired former teammate Chris Young and celebrated. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of reception he gets here Tuesday night if he enters with a save opportunity.

The other interesting factor, of course, is the workload he’s racking up. He closed four of the last five days for the Tigers, whose manager was concerned enough about him that he planned to rest him Saturday and Sunday. On Sunday, though, Valverde told Leyland he was ready, and Joaquin Benoit’s entry for the last out of the eighth pressed him into action.

Most likely, Alex Avila will not be catching him, since he probably won’t be in the game by then. He’s batting ninth in a stacked AL starting lineup.

Four Tigers All-Stars, possibly another

Alex Avila’s campaign for All-Star votes, as led by teammate Justin Verlander, paid off in the end. In his first year as the Tigers’ everyday catcher, he’ll be starting behind the plate for the American League in the All-Star Game.

His starting nod highlights four All-Stars for the Tigers, the second time in three years they’ve had that total. Miguel Cabrera, Jose Valverde and Justin Verlander will join Avila in Phoenix for the Midsummer Classic July 12.

Victor Martinez will have the chance to join them if he can win the All-Star Game Final Vote. Balloting for that began today at MLB.com and runs through Thursday.

For all but one of them, it’s a return to the All-Star Game. For Avila, the first time might well be the sweetest. He becomes the first Tiger voted by fans into the All-Star lineup since 2007, when Ivan Rodriguez, Magglio Ordonez and Placido Polanco all made it. Miguel Cabrera started last year’s game at first base, but did so after Justin Morneau was scratched due to injury.

Avila led all American League catchers in almost every major offensive category, short of home runs. Still, Russell Martin’s hot opening month as a New York Yankee earned him a slew of early votes once fan balloting began in April and May.

The Tigers soon picked up Avila’s cause. Then came Verlander, whose work with Avila as his catcher has resulted in a no-hitter and several close calls already this year. Verlander took to Twitter and just about any other medium he could find to try to encourage fans to vote Avila.

Avila slowly began catching up Martin, but still trailed by more than 400,000 votes as of the last balloting update earlier this week. But Avila garnered the vast majority of the votes at catcher this week before online balloting closed Thursday night.

“Thanks to all the non-Tigers fans who chose the best player,” Verlander wrote Sunday afternoon on his Twitter account. “To all the Tigers fans, thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Best city, best fans.”

Verlander likely won’t get the chance to catch him in the game itself. Though he was an obvious choice for players to vote onto the AL pitching staff, he won’t be eligible to pitch in the Midsummer Classic if he starts for the Tigers at Kansas City next Sunday to close out the season’s first half, as he’s scheduled to do.

With an 11-3 record, 2.32 ERA and just 88 hits over 135 2/3 innings, he would’ve been a strong candidate to start in the game. Still, he’ll be recognized with his third straight All-Star selection, and his fourth overall.

Cabrera makes the All-Star team for the sixth time, the second time as a Tiger. His .329 average entering Sunday ranked third in the AL to go with 17 homers and 56 RBIs. Valverde, 19-for-19 in save chances entering Sunday, is a three-time All-Star.

Verlander, Valverde and Cabrera were all All-Stars last season. It’s the first time three Tigers earned back-to-back All-Star selections since 1985 and ’86, when Lou Whitaker, Lance Parrish and Willie Hernandez made the teams.

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.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 26,279 other followers