The Tigers won 2 to 1 last night, thanks in large part to Joaquin Benoit pitching the ninth inning without allowing a run. After the game, Jim Leyland was his usual self. Which is to say that though they won, he was somewhere between grumpy and angry. You see, he was forced to use Joaquin Benoit on Tuesday and Wednesday as well, when the Tigers won both games by four runs. Benoit would not likely have been available to close on Thursday, and pitching on Saturday would now introduce some risk of injury.
But who in the world made him pitch Benoit on Tuesday and Wednesday? Did the front office call down to the dugout during the game and make the change, like George Steinbrenner back in the 1980's? Did someone in the media threaten to write a bad column if he did not make the move? Is Gene Lamont running the show from the bench, to Leyland's frustration?
The Tigers have played eight games since the All Star break, when presumably all of the relievers were rested.
July 19, losing 1 to 0, Coke pitches to three batters and Rondon pitchers to four. It was a close game and Leyland avoided Smyly and Benoit. You could argue that this would be a good time to use your best relievers, but no harm was done.
July 20 losing 6 to 5, Al Al pitches to three batters and Smyly to five. Another close game and he let one of his best relievers pitch more than one inning. Well done.
July 21 winning 3 to 1, Smyly pitches the seventh inning. Rondon pitches the eighth. The Tigers tack on a run and Benoit pitches the ninth with a three run lead. It is good to see that Smyly is not tagged with the "setup man" label which would restrict him to the eighth inning.
July 22, winning 7 to 2 and Scherzer goes eight innings. Coke faces one batter in the ninth. Rondon "closes" the game allowing one meaningless run. This may be a rare time that fans could handle Coke pitching all of the ninth inning, but Rondon needs the experience. Now Rondon has pitched in three out of four days, so presumably is unavailable the next day.
July 23, winning 6 to 0, Al Al pitches a strong eighth inning. He is brought back to pitch the ninth and walks the first two batters. So with a six run lead, Leyland turns to Benoit to close the game. The good news is that a "proven closer" is never brought into a game unless it is a save situation. So at least Leyland has not typecast Benoit. The bad news is that he panicked. Evan Reed and Luke Putkonen had not been used in over a week, and either could have protected a six run lead to save Benoit for another day.
July 24, winning 6 to 0 again, Rondon pitches the seventh inning and allows a run. Rondon has now pitched in four out of six games. Apparently Leyland wants him to get as much work as possible so that he knows what he has for the playoffs. Smyly pitches the eighth inning. What a waste of a great arm. Putkonen starts the ninth inning and allows a home run, and then retires the next batter. The Tigers are up four runs with two outs to go. Uh oh, panic time. Or maybe Leyland thinks that Coke needs some work to shed the LOOGY title. So Coke is brought in to face De Aza, who singles. Panic time again. Leyland turns to Benoit to close the game. Was this really necessary? How is this going to help Putkonen develop into a reliever who can perhaps pitch the seventh inning of an important game? How is this going to help Coke recover the confidence that he showed in the 2012 playoffs? And now Benoit goes back in the "break glass to use" cabinet.
July 25, losing 7 to 3, Reed pitches the last two innings. That is why he is on the team, saving the other arms for tomorrow.
July 26, winning 2 to 1, Benoit pitches the ninth inning. As he should.
The starters are once again performing well and are usually going deep into games. Leyland has much for which to be thankful as they make his job easier. I understand that Valverde may have scarred him into believing that no lead is safe. But maybe we need to stamp "proven closer" on Benoit's chest so that Leyland will be a little more judicious about his use. Then Leyland will not have to upset himself so much.