The Jose Valverde experiment was one worth trying this spring. The Tigers kind of botched it by rushing him from Florida to Detroit so early in the season. But it was worth trying. Wednesday, the experiment officially came to an end with Valverde's unconditional release from the organization.
Valverde seemed to begin struggling midway through the 2012 season, and infamously was exposed first against the Athletics in the ALDS, then the Yankees in Game 1 of the ALCS, before being relegated to an afterthought the rest of the playoffs. With Bruce Rondon and other young pitchers on their way up the ranks, the Tigers did not bother signing Valverde this offseason, leaving him without a team when nobody else wanted to give him any real guaranteed money, either. Eventually, the team decided to give him a minor league tryout with the opportunity to join the major league squad within a month.
When Bruce Rondon, Brayan Villarreal and Phil Coke all struggled early in the season, Valverde moved much quicker than that. He soon found himself not only closing in Detroit, but doing so quite respectably. By the end of May his ERA was under 1 and more than one person being fooled into believing he was back. He was not, and warning signs were flashing bright to anyone who knew where to look.
A hiccup in late May led to a quick downfall in June, with Valverde's last appearance for the team on June 19 becoming a five-hit, four-run inning. Everyone with the organization said the right things about going down to the minors to fix a few issues, but it seemed apparent the likelihood of Valverde becoming anything like his pre-2012 self was pretty low. At the time of his demotion his ERA had climbed to 5.59.
With Joaquin Benoit and Jose Veras joined at the back of the pen by a successful Drew Smyly, the Tigers really had no where to put Valverde unless he was interested in middle relief. He may not have been. Even if he had, his numbers in Toledo (4.09 ERA in 11 innings, 1.82 WHIP) were not selling his case real well. When Jeremy Bonderman was added to the organization and not long after joined the Tigers, you knew how Valverde's story would end.
Valverde will be remembered for a 49-for-49 2011 regular season, his antics when he came out of the bullpen and his antics when he successfully did his job on the mound. He seemed like a good character, but at age 35 his glory days are in the past. His Tigers career seems finished at 119 saves and a 3.22 ERA.
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