Tigers order up a Coke and Smyly
By KEN FIDLIN, QMI Agency
|Tigers relief pitcher Phil Coke celebrates after defeating the Yankees in Game 2 of the ALCS at Yankee Stadium in New York, N.Y., Oct. 14, 2012. (ADAM HUNGER/Reuters)
SAN FRANCISCO - The timing of Jose Valverde’s closer crisis can’t help but leave some scars, both on his reputation and on his psyche moving forward. Tigers manager Jim Leyland is concerned about that, on some level, but mostly he’s concerned about what happens tonight. And tomorrow. And the game after that.
What has been masterful about Leyland’s approach since he stopped using Valverde to close games is he has kept perpetuating the sense of inclusion for Valverde. The last thing the Tigers need as they head into a World Series is a clubhouse controversy. If that means telling the world that Valverde is still the closer -- just not today -- then the manager does what he has to do.
Surprise, surprise. The question about Valverde came up again Tuesday on the eve of the Fall Classic.
“I’m just going to play it by ear, see what happens,” said Leyland. “I don’t really have any definite information on that yet. We’ll just see how the game plays out, who’s coming up. Like I always say, I hope we have that to worry about. If we do, we’ll come up with somebody.”
Lefty Phil Coke was chosen to finish the last three games in Detroit’s American League Championship Series sweep of the New York Yankees. Two of those appearances were for saves and the last one was two innings of not giving the Yankees a chance to get anything started in an 8-1 clincher. Another bullpen lefty, rookie Drew Smyly, has been almost unhittable in the playoffs.
“He did very, very well," said Leyland, of Coke. "I think we’d be putting the cart before the horse all of a sudden to say he’s a definite full‑time closer. I’ll leave it at that. He did a terrific job, no doubt about that.”
No need to throw additional salt into Valverde’s wounds.
“I don’t have any problem with Jim,” said Valverde. “He’s a smart guy and he’s just doing what he has to do. It’s the World Series. Last week it was trying to win the pennant. I still think of myself as the closer on this team and I will gladly take the ball. But all I can do is be prepared when that happens.”
In the opinion of some folks, there will be icebergs in Hades before Valverde gets another save opportunity. That’s not Leyland’s style. He will try to rebuild Valverde’s confidence. Just not during the life-and-death parts of the World Series.
Coke himself has had one of those mercurial seasons. During May, June, July and August, opponents were hitting .329 against him.
“I had my issues but the fact of the matter is being able to put them behind you, move forward and finish as strong as possible,” he said. “When I’m going well, I’m having a good time, not worrying about anything and I don’t suck.”
Valverde will one day get a chance to renovate his reputation. For now, though, expect Leyland to opt for a Coke and a Smyly.