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A sometimes-irreverent look at Detroit's Boys of Summer, the Tigers, as they try to return to the top of the American League Central.

Monday, October 22, 2012

WS PREVIEW: So, is a fixed-up Valverde the closer? Maybe yes, maybe no

On what the reaction might be for Jose Valverde, when he next pitches: 

"Well, I mean, really honestly I would like to see no negative reaction.  I know as a fan you buy tickets and, you know, you buy the right to cheer and you also buy the right to boo.  But we are in the postseason, and, you know, every positive vibe that can help us possibly win is extremely beneficial for us.
"We saw it in Oakland with Coco Crisp, and I was amazed how their fans reacted to him because he dropped that ball in center field here at Comerica, and we go back to Oakland and I thought he might get booed, but he got the biggest cheer from the whole stadium.
"I would like to see that from our fans as well.  I know Valverde has been struggling, but it is not for the lack of trying.  And I think the only things fans can get upset at is lack of effort, and there has been none of that there with him.
"And like Skipper said, he is still our closer and we have a lot of faith in him.  I haven’t seen his attitude change whatsoever.  It is the life of the closer.  Those guys are a little bit different."

DETROIT — Overblown or blown over?

Have the Tigers figured out a way to fix the problems in closer Jose Valverde’s delivery that caused him to blow up? Or is it just a storyline at this point?

As the Tigers head to the World Series, there still are really more questions than answers when it comes to what’s going on with their ninth-inning situation.

His manager, Jim Leyland — the same guy who said he was still the closer, but wasn’t; the guy who hasn’t used him since his ninth-inning meltdown in Yankee Stadium more than a week ago — isn’t buying it’s a story, anything more than water-cooler chatter.

“I think everybody’s making too big of a deal of the Valverde situation. Valverde’s going to be ready. There’s nothing wrong with Valverde. He’s going to be fine. I got a kick out of it,” Leyland said at Saturday’s workout. “Nobody wanted me to pitch him, but everybody asks me every day if he’s going to be the closer. I don’t know what they expect, but I’m going to just see what happens, but Valverde ... I think he’s going to be a big part of the World Series. That’ll leave some people to have some good conversations and questions about it.”

Valverde has not pitched since blowing a four-run lead in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series, by giving up game-tying two-run home runs to Ichiro Suzuki and Raul Ibanez. It was a game the Tigers would rally to win in extra innings, but shouldn’t have had to.

His outing before that, guarding a 3-1 lead in Game 3 of the AL Division Series, the closer gave up three straight hits before getting an out, allowing the Athletics to tie it, then gave up a two-out single to Coco Crisp to lose it. It was a game the Tigers should have won, keeping the series from going five games.

After two costly blowups in the span of three days, enough was enough.

Leyland said, while Valverde was still the closer, he wouldn’t be used as such right away.

They needed to iron out some things.

There were other options who could throw in his place, in the interim.

More than a year ago.

“I would have to say there is a big difference between our bullpen this year and last year. I think there are more guys that Skip feels that he can trust to put into a game in a tough situation. Our bullpen is deeper as far as the guys that Skip is able to use. Last year I know basically it seemed like it was (Joaquin) Benoit and Valverde. Every single game they threw a lot. And Skip really wanted to address going into this year we have to have the full bullpen to get through the season to win the series,” catcher Alex Avila said.

“And really the way he has been able to manage the bullpen recently, obviously because Jose has been struggling a little bit, basically the whole last month of the season and into the postseason he has gone a lot of match‑ups, but then he’ll just go with the hot hand. Really the guy that’s pitching the best he’s been throwing out there.

“And, you know, at this point of the season you have to go with the guy that is going to get outs. But the fact of matter is the guys we have, I know he trusts them big time to get the job done.”

Despite having options, there was still a temptation to use the guy who’d been the 2011 Delivery Man of the Year.

Leyland even told a national radio show, ESPN’s “Mike and Mike in the Morning” that he’d considered using Valverde in the ninth inning of Thursday’s 8-1 close-out win in Game 4.

He didn’t, worried about “how the emotion would be in that situation, after he had a couple of bad outings. I thought it wasn’t the time.”

He wasn’t the only one. Before the Tigers even came home from New York early last week, staff ace Justin Verlander was concerned about the reception Valverde might get.

“Well, I mean, really honestly I would like to see no negative reaction. I know as a fan you buy tickets and, you know, you buy the right to cheer and you also buy the right to boo,” Verlander said. “But we are in the postseason, and, you know, every positive vibe that can help us possibly win is extremely beneficial for us.”

Rather than risk the backlash on what was supposed to be (and certainly was) a celebratory night, Leyland left Valverde in his pocket.

Instead, he went to another option, lefty Phil Coke, to close the game out for a third straight time.

That doesn’t really mean anything, either.

Doesn’t mean Coke’s the new closer.

“You’ve got to remember now everybody has Phil Coke as the closer and the greatest closer since Post Toasties. Well, he’s done a great job, but we’re going to see a lot of right-handed hitters if we play one team (St. Louis), and he has not had a lot of success with right-handers until just recently. So, I’m not taking anything away from Phil Coke. He’s been fantastic,” Leyland said. “But it’s kind of like, ‘what have you done for me lately?’ and people are all wrapped up in it now. We’ll have a good pitcher out there hopefully to close the game out and I hope we have that problem. I hope we have to worry about who’s closing.”

The worries in the interim were about getting Valverde fixed.

Detroit’s coaching staff spent a few late nights looking at video of his delivery, and hoped they’d identified a flaw that may be to blame.

Then pitching coach Jeff Jones worked with Valverde to implement the tweaks.

“I think that Jonesey and him worked it out pretty good. I’m not one that likes to, every time somebody doesn’t do good, find a reason to blame it on something. I’m not one of those guys. The fact of the matter is you’ve got to get guys out. I just think that, the No. 1 thing I’ve seen this year as opposed to last year in my own opinion — and this is just me, I’m not a pitching coach — is that last year on a consistent basis he stayed out of the middle of the plate and this year he has not done that as well. That’s a fact,” Leyland said. “So I don’t blame everything on mechanics or blame everything on somebody didn’t like the mound. Neither does he. He makes no excuses. He’s been great. And he’s pumped up and he’s ready to go. We’ll just see how it plays out.”

For his part, Valverde has confidence in what they worked on.

“It’s what I had to do ... an adjustment. ... I opened too much, and was doing some stuff with my hands. ... Now it’s over. ... It’s my leg and my hands. ... Now, I fixed it up,” Valverde said. “I’ve working hard the last couple days. I figured out what I’m doing wrong and I’ll be ready for the World Series. I feel like I’ll save the last game.”

For that matter, after being reduced to a cheerleader for more than a week, he’d be willing to do most anything to contribute.

“What’s in the past, it’s over,” Valverde said this weekend. “I don’t care. All I want is to be a champion. ... If I had to start, I’d do it.”

Email Matthew B. Mowery at and follow him on Twitter @matthewbmowery. Text keyword “Tigers” to 22700 to get updates sent to your phone. Msg & data rates may apply. Text HELP for help. Text STOP to cancel.


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