By Ashley Dunkak
COMERICA PARK (CBS Detroit) – When it comes to the closer situation, the Detroit Tigers have been here before. In fact, this is the way it was at the beginning of the season.
“Who’s going to close? Nobody knows,” Tigers reliever Joaquin Benoit said before Thursday’s game, calling the uncertainty a tough situation for everyone in the bullpen.
Detroit manager Jim Leyland said earlier this season he liked Jose Valverde — not exactly a fan favorite — because, as a veteran, he does not get rattled by bad outings, which all pitchers experience from time to time. Valverde showed what Leyland meant by maintaining a big-picture perspective as far as how rough this month has been for him.
“For me it hasn’t been difficult because I’m alive, I have my kids, I have my family, my friends,” he said in Spanish. “What happens on the field stays on the field.”
For his part, Leyland said he would not name a full-time closer, but said he wanted to close with Benoit when possible – including Thursday, if Detroit had a lead at the end of the game. Leyland said embattled reliever Valverde, who had given up four runs in the ninth inning of Wednesday’s blowout loss, would not be an option Thursday but would be used as Leyland saw fit.
“I’m going to try to close with Benoit when healthy and available,” Leyland said. “So that means that Benoit will be the closer if he’s able to pitch, hasn’t pitched too much, hasn’t been overused, and we have a chance to win a game. I can’t make it much more simple than that for you.
“If you’re looking for me to name a closer, I’m not naming a full-time closer because I’m not sure who will be available or who would need a day off it they pitched two days or possibly three days,” Leyland added. “You all can make whatever assumptions you want, but I think we ought to move on to another topic.”
In light of all that, the reasonable conclusion appears to be that Benoit is, if not the full-time closer, the top choice to close games at the moment.
Benoit said his understanding is that closer by committee is the current strategy.
Valverde, who allowed 11 runs on 15 hits – including six homers – in his last eight appearances, has nine saves and three blown saves over his 20 outings this season. He said in Spanish Thursday that he is continuing to work and that he definitely still has faith in his splitter.
“I have a lot of confidence,” he said in Spanish. “If I didn’t have confidence, I wouldn’t be pitching.”