LAKELAND, Fla. — Tigers late-inning reliever Octavio Dotel is one of those players who becomes glue for a ballclub.
He often takes the mound and patches together a game on the verge of breaking the other way, and is a clubhouse leader who brings professionalism and harmony.
Dotel threw five innings of no-hit relief in the 2012 playoffs and was central in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series against the Yankees after closer Jose Valverde blew a four-run lead.
Now Dotel’s assuming Valverde’s role as a mentor to young pitchers and will continue to be a key element with the game on the line.
“From the sixth inning on, Dotel is a guy you can count on to do any job you want done,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “And he’s resilient, too. You keep him sharp and rested, and he’s pretty good.
“I like to use him in the sixth or seventh, but he can pitch the eighth in a heartbeat.”
Or even the ninth inning of one of the most important games the Tigers played last year.
Valverde had just given up the two-run home run to Raul Ibanez that made the scored 4-4 when Leyland summoned Dotel with two outs. The Tigers were visibly shaken by losing the four-run lead in the bottom of the ninth, and Yankee Stadium was rocking with joy.
But Dotel ended the inning by getting Eric Chavez to fly out.
Dotel came on for the 10th inning and got leadoff hitter Nick Swisher to fly out to right. Then Dotel walked Curtis Granderson, and Brett Gardner came on as a pinch-runner and stole second.
With the winning run in scoring position, Dotel got Russell Martin to fly out to center. After Gardner stole third, Dotel then got perennial Yankees hero Derek Jeter to fly out to right to end the inning of a game the Tigers won in 12 innings.
“He quietly did a hell of a job for us,” Leyland said. “He’s also great in the clubhouse and not afraid to throw to anybody.”
Leyland doesn’t expect Dotel to be his closer should Valverde’s heir apparent, rookie Bruce Rondon, struggle; however, Leyland did mention Dotel as one of several pitchers who would be considered for the job.
Dotel, 39, was given a chance to close as a young pitcher and has 109 major-league saves. He knows exactly what Rondon, 22, is going through and is the perfect guy to work with him. Dotel can comfortably converse in Spanish with Rondon, who requires a translator.
“Rondon wants to be a better pitcher and a better player, and that is important,” said Dotel, pausing to touch his temple with his ring finger.
He’s coaching Rondon on how to use his head more than his arm, which is more than ample.
“What I am telling him is to relax when you come in the game,” Dotel said. “You just can’t come in way too high. I understand that now, and I didn’t understand that (as a rookie). But I have the ability to tell him that.
“You come into a game in the ninth with (Justin) Verlander giving you a 1-0 lead, you have to have a strong inning. You have got to do your job and get three outs. You have to control the adrenaline.
“And you know what the good thing is about him? The main thing is that he listens.”
Dotel paused and stuck out his chest while adding, “He don’t act like he’s the man.”
Swagger is a good thing. Being pompous is not. That’s something a young player can have reinforced by veteran like Dotel.
“I will spend more time this year with the young guys,” Dotel said. “Every young guy on the team, I want to be ready and understand we are here to win.
“There is not a thing we have to improve, but there is something we have to prove.”
That’s winning a World Series — something Dotel did with the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals.
The Tigers signed him for two years at $6.5 million before last season, and he was 5-3 with a 3.57 ERA in 57 games.
Dotel set the major-league record last year by playing for his 13th team. He’s 59-50 with a 3.73 ERA in 752 games and has pitched very well in most of his 26 postseason games.
The good news for him is that there’s always been a team offering him a job, but the bad news has been the regular moving.
“I don’t want to be traded at the trade deadline this year,” Dotel said. “I want to play here. People don’t realize how hard it is to move during a season. You have to move your family, get to know a new town and new teammates.”
He laughed when it was suggested that he’s become good at it, just the same.
“Yeah, I have,” Dotel said.
Adjusting on the mound and off it has allowed Dotel to prosper for 13 seasons — while learning how to be the glue.