Longtime readers know that I am a fan of using your best relief pitchers in trouble spots instead of confining them to defined roles or innings. Jim Leyland, normally one to use said roles, deviated from his normal tendencies tonight and it paid off in a big way for the Tigers.
Situation: top of the seventh inning, runners on first and second, two outs. With Al Alburquerque suffering from some hip tightness, Jim Leyland decided to bring Joaquin Benoit out of the bullpen to face the left-handed Mike Moustakas. After a 1-0 pitch misses outside, Benoit delivers a 92 mile per hour fastball up in the strike zone.
Benoit misses with a changeup in the dirt, then gets Moustakas to pop up.
He probably would have liked to elevate the fastball a bit more, but his location isn't terrible here, especially to a guy that is utterly lost at the plate right now. The decision to go with Benoit over Phil Coke is interesting, but Benoit's righty-lefty splits aren't as egregiously bad as other relievers in the bullpen.
Situation: top of the eighth inning, no runners on base, zero outs. Benoit goes on cruise control in the eighth, carving up Jeff Francoeur, Salvador Perez, and Chris Getz.
Francoeur rolls over a breaking ball for a weak groundout.
Perez strikes out on Benoit's patented vulcan changeup.
And Getz grounds out weakly to the left side on another changeup, which seemed to have a bit more fade on it than the one Perez saw.
This outing may not seem remarkable, but that's because it isn't -- though an efficient 14-pitch outing is definitely encouraging.
With Jose Valverde handling the ninth inning duties again, these are the types of ripple effects felt throughout the rest of the bullpen. Benoit has been a very underrated part of this bullpen since he signed with the Tigers. Keeping him in that lockdown eighth inning role pushes everyone else forward, shortening the game for the opposition. This Benoit-Valverde combination is what made the Tigers so tough to beat with a lead in 2011, and if Valverde is indeed "back," will make them tough to beat in 2013 as well.
Seriously, that changeup to Perez was filthy.