In the early days of relief specialization, teams figured they were golden if they had one shut-down late inning stopper.
Over the last few years, to be golden in the bullpen meant having a solid eighth-inning guy to set up your closer.
The Tigers demonstrated that last winter when they signed Joaquin Benoit to a three-year deal for more than $15 million, unheard of for a reliever who didn’t pitch ninth innings very often.
But when Dave Dombrowski turns his attention to the Tigers’ needs for 2012, one of the things he’ll be looking for is to nail down a reliever who can nail down seventh innings.
What he’ll have to determine is whether that pitcher exists on the current roster, is lurking in the minors or has to be obtained from outside.
But if there’s one thing the Texas-Detroit League Championship Series has pointed out, it’s the value of those sixth- and seventh-inning shutdown guys. The Rangers have them; the Tigers don’t.
When a manager has to use both his setup man and closer in the same game three days in a row, that means he doesn’t have anybody else he trusts to get late scoreless innings.
Benoit has pitched four innings, throwing 63 pitches, in the last three days.
Jose Valverde has worked 4 1/3 innings, throwing 61 pitches, in the same time span.
“I can’t credit Valverde and Benoit enough for what they’ve done,” manager Jim Leyland said. “They’re pitching on fumes and heart.”
During most of the regular season, Leyland had that middle-inning, seventh-inning guy in Al Alburquerque.
But once he took a shot in the left side of the head, suffering a concussion, when Baltimore was taking batting practice in August, Alburquerque hasn’t been the same. After the down time, Leyland wasn’t able to get him enough work, in part because the reliever with one of the best sliders in baseball has not been particularly sharp.
Leyland brought him in during Texas’ 7-3 11-inning win over Detroit on Wednesday when starter Rick Porcello got in a jam in the seventh.
“Alburquerque came in a little wild,” Leyland said. “We got a little nervous about that. That’s shortened up our bullpen a little bit. We weren’t real sure about him. He hadn’t got much work. He has struggled since he came back. That’s just the way it goes. We actually had our shots. We just didn’t come up with a base hit.”
Leyland used Alburquerque anywhere from just a batter or two up to three innings, the same basic kind of role that he used Joel Zumaya in during his rookie season of 2006, when Detroit reached the World Series.
Down 3-1, Detroit heads into the first of three potential elimination games with the top three pitchers in its rotation ready to go: Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Doug Fister.
“Obviously we’ve got to win three in a row,” Leyland said. “You win (Thursday), it’s 3-2. We can count. I know what the situation is.
“You wouldn’t rather have anyone out there other than Justin Verlander. You win that game, all of a sudden it gets a little hairy again.”
“Just keep playing hard,” Rick Porcello said after turning in 6 2/3 innings. “I think we’ll be fine.”
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