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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.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

TIGERS PREVIEW: Position-by-position — Bullpen

(Al Alburquerque, RHP (pictured); Joaquin Benoit, RHP; Phil Coke, LHP; Octavio Dotel, RHP; Darin Downs, LHP; Drew Smyly, LHP; Brayan Villarreal, RHP) 

The question mark of spring training has become the question mark of the regular season.

Who will close out games?

The inside track on the job went to rookie Bruce Rondon, but he could not harness his command, and will start the season at Triple-A Toledo.

It wasn’t just results that kept Rondon from sewing up the job — it was other things, like how he handled himself, and how he used his stuff.

“You gotta be careful. When the bright lights come on, and the extra tiers are on the stadium, it’s a little different,” manager Jim Leyland said. “He’s gotta be able to block everything out. That’s why the mentality of the guy getting (out No.) 25, 26 and 27 has to be a little bit different than the other guys.”

While Rondon will likely get a chance at some point this season, the Tigers will operate with closer-by-committee. While several relievers will get a chance, don’t expect one to be named the closer, unless he takes the job and runs with it.

“We definitely have guys that can close A game. Whether we have guys that can close games is a different story. I think whether they would hold up, physically, mentally, I’m not sure of that,” Leyland said. “We have some guys that could close a game at any time: (Joaquin) Benoit, (Phil) Coke, (Octavio) Dotel, (Al) Alburquerque. They could all close a game. It’s just, would they withstand the wear and tear, and the mental pressure and physical pressure of doing it four, five times a week?

“That would remain to be seen. I’m not sure we have that.”

Does the lack of an established closer concern the Tigers themselves?

“No. I think we’ve got numerous guys that can do that. ... I don’t think there’s any need to worry about it. If somebody else (other than Rondon) needs to fill the role, we’ve got guys that are more than capable of it,” ace Justin Verlander said. “I think you can definitely win one without (a dominant closer). I hope we have one. I think you can definitely win one without it.”

UPDATE: Jose Valverde, the Tigers' closer for the last three seasons, was re-signed to a minor-league deal on April 4. The deal has an opt-out clause if he's not in the majors by May 5. If his usage of his once-effective splitter has improved, along with his velocity, he could play a part in this year's bullpen, bridging the gap to Rondon.


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