Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland pulls relief pitcher Jose Valverde from the game as Tigers catcher Gerald Laird looks on during the ninth inning of Game 1 of their MLB ALCS playoff baseball series against the New York Yankees in New York, October 13, 2012. REUTERS/Bill Kostroun
NEW YORK - From a distance, the decision is a slam dunk. Jose Valverde has no business anywhere near a ninth inning, or any inning for that matter, in October or any other month. He’s an accident waiting to happen.
From the vantage points of Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland and general manager Dave Dombrowski, it’s a very different view. They saw Valverde lock the door in 49 of 49 save opportunities in 2011 and in 35 of 40 in 2012.
They have no intention to throw Valverde, their 34-year-old bullpen closer, out with the trash after blowing two saves in back-to-back playoff appearances. After discussing the situation into the early hours Sunday, they determined that Valverde wouldn’t close in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series, but that he was still the team’s closer.
Last Wednesday in Oakland, with a chance to send the Oakland Athletics packing in the AL Division Series, Valverde could not protect a 3-0 lead and the A’s scored four ninth-inning runs to force Game 5.
Saturday at Yankee Stadium, Valverde was sent out to mop up in a 4-0 non-save situation and once again gave up four runs on a pair of two-run homers. The Tigers rallied for a 6-4 win in 12 innings, but the bullpen crisis dominated Detroit’s post-game discussion.
“I understand the magnitude of it in the post-season,” said Leyland Sunday. “I understand that it’s a normal thing to say, well, you can’t close with him. However, don’t forget the last three outs are very tough to get and it takes a special cat to do that.”
Leyland thinks there are a couple of mechanical issues that need to be addressed and the Tigers staff will attempt to work with Valverde over the next few days.
“I did not like some things that I saw,” said Leyland. “(His delivery) is way too slow, the tempo is not good at all.
“For the most part, when he has blown a save he’s been able to come right back and shrug it off. Right now it looks to me like he’s waiting for something bad to happen.”
Speaking in the hours leading up to Game 2 Sunday afternoon, Leyland was uncertain how he would use his bullpen, other than to say that Valverde would have the day off.
“I will try to go by committee,” he said. “I cannot sit here right now and tell you I have a definite closer for this game today. I hope I have to close this game today but I cannot give you a name. I have a suggestion box down by my office.”
As it turned out, because of the structure of the Yankees lineup in the ninth, Leyland stayed with left-hander Phil Coke, who got through the inning allowing only one single.