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Jim Leyland says Jose Valverde is important to the Tigers and remains the closer. But Leyland won't commit to using Papa Grande in a game, either.
It's been two days since the Big Potato was mashed. Jose Valverde handed back the lead for a second consecutie time Saturday night, sending game 1 of the ALCS into extra innings thanks to a horrific 4 run 9th inning. Since that time, manager Jim Leyland has been resolute in not being resolute as to who will be closing for the Detroit Tigers from game to game.
“I still consider Valverde the closer.”
Leyland is being consistent. He would much prefer to have a set in stone closer and it will be Valverde...even if he's a closer in name only at the moment.
When will Leyland use Valverde again?
"I'll have a conversation with him tomorrow, see how he's feeling, see what the pitching coach thinks.. We'll see how the game plays out and go from there."
Again, Leyland is very non-committal in his response. Valverde had a pre-game bullpen session with pitching coach Jeff Jones to work out a mechanical issue. Were they able to correct the flaw? No one is saying.
Will Valverde be the closer in Game 3?
"We'll play it open and see what happens, see what kind of match up there is, I am hoping Valverde in the very near future is ready to take it back over."
"It's very important we have him."
Thanks to Valverde's struggles the Tigers are essentially a man short in a bullpen, a bullpen now in semi-disarray. Not helping matters is the Tigers' fan base hits DEFCON 1 whenever there's even a hint the closer will enter a game. If Valverde does pitch sometime over the next 3 days and makes even one mistake in a high leverage situation, Comerica will turn on him.
Regardless, Leyland has sensible take on a touchy situation. Reinforcing how "important" Valverde is to the team is a very smart thing to do. It's also very true. We've all apparently forgotten Valverde was in Papa Grande mode only 10 days ago. In game 1 of the ALDS Valverde struck out 2 while setting the Athletics down in order on 11 pitches. Vintage Valverde.
If Valverde can contribute, it's in the Tigers' best interests to use him. But Leyland is hedging his bets in saying they hope Valverde is ready in the "very near future."
Being a big league manager also means a being a psychologist (and a cheerleader, mother hen, authority figure, motivator, statistician and gambler). Ever the old pro at handling athletes, Leyland is doing everything in his power to not completely destroy any confidence his closer may have left. But he also knows he's paid to win games and has an octogenarian boss who is beyond desperate to win a World Series.
Desperate, aging owner >>>> Struggling closer.
Leyland is walking a tightrope, trying to keep Mike Ilitch happy while not losing his closer for the remainder of the post season. He's succeeding...so far.
Will Leyland continue with the bullpen by committee if he feels Valverde isn't capable?
“I can do that. “I’m not afraid to do that.”
Leyland backed up those words yesterday, allowing a very effective Phil Coke to convert an old school 2 inning save.
The bullpen by committee worked for 1 game. Leyland may not have a choice in rolling the dice with the committee for the remainder of the post season. But it's apparent he'd rather not, if at all possible, so he's refusing to slam the Valverde door.
Did Leyland handle the 9th inning of ALCS game 1 correctly? No. Hindsight being 20-20, I'm sure Leyland would agree and wouldn't have taken his loyalty to Valverde as his closer to such a costly extreme.
Has Leyland handled the resulting controversy in the best possible way since then? His Tigers being 2 games away from a World Series appearance, the answer is obviously yes.