Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland is loyal to his players, perhaps to a fault.
If the Tigers are going to beat the New York Yankees in the ALCS, that will have to change.
Leyland has stuck with struggling players like Brandon Inge, Brennan Boesch and Ryan Raburn before – admitting recently that he stuck with Raburn too long.
Inge didn’t stick with the Tigers past April, finding a home with the Oakland A’s, Boesch did not make either the ALDS or ALCS rosters and Raburn was placed on the DL and is home in Tampa.
Now the time has come to decide what to do with struggling closer Jose Valverde.
After a stunning meltdown in Game 4 in Oakland, which the Tigers lost, Valverde once again couldn’t get it done in Game 1 against the Yankees.
Although the resilient Tigers were able to come back for a 6-4 win and take home-field advantage from the Yankees, it was no thanks to Valverde.
The Tigers forged a 4-0 lead thanks to two RBI from Delmon Young and one each from Prince Fielder and rookie Avisail Garcia.
Even though it was not a save situation, Leyland elected to have Valverde start the bottom of the ninth and the results were disastrous.
Valverde gave up a two-run home run to Ichiro Suzuki. After striking out Robinson Cano for the second out, he walked Mark Teixeira.
Pitching coach Jeff Jones came out to talk to Valverde, who then gave up a game-tying home run to Raul Ibanez.
Although Leyland had Octavio Dotel warming up in the bullpen, he did not bring him in to face the hottest hitter the Yankees have at the moment.
“Ibanez has had pretty good success off Dotel, not in a lot of at-bats but pretty good success,” Leyland said in his postgame press conference. “I thought he might charge a fastball with him as well.”
Regardless, Leyland could have brought Dotel in, had him walk Ibanez intentionally and then go after Eric Chavez.
Leyland admitted after the game that he had Dotel up because he “saw some things I didn’t really like.”
There’s nothing to like about the way Valverde’s pitching right now and Leyland can’t afford to let the veteran closer continue to close games. Leyland gave him a second chance after the Game 4 debacle in Oakland and Valverde failed.
Young, who drove in the game-winning run in the 12th inning with a double, said he still had faith in Valverde.
“Papa Grande’s a big leaguer,” Young told FOX Sports Detroit’s John Keating on the field after the game. “It’s happened before. He’s had some big saves throughout his career. Hopefully he can just put this game behind him and make a few adjustments and come out here in a save situation or if we need to get some outs.”
Leyland said he was going to discuss the situation with the rest of his coaches.
“We’re going to put our heads together, we’re going to talk with him, we’re going to talk with the staff and try to figure if there’s something going on that’s maybe being camouflaged, maybe is, maybe isn’t,” Leyland said. “So I don’t want to get carried away at this press conference until we have more information. Everything will be cleared up for everybody by the time I come in here before the game (Sunday).”
If Valverde is hurt, they can replace him with a player not currently on the ALCS roster. However, that would mean that Valverde would not play in the World Series should the Tigers advance.
Left-hander Darin Downs is a possibility with all the lefties the Yankees have, or the Tigers could go with hard-throwing right-hander Brayan Villarreal.
It’s not ideal to have closer-by-committee, especially in the playoffs, but perhaps that’s what the Tigers will have to do at this point.
One possibility, the experienced and well-traveled Dotel, threw 27 pitches in Game 1, which makes him an unlikely candidate to close Game 2.
Joaquin Benoit would normally be the No. 1 candidate as he has closed on days when Valverde was unavailable because of injury or having pitched too many days in a row, but he has not been as effective as he was in the first half of the season. Al Alburquerque might be able to close for a day.
The only thing for certain is that Valverde cannot be the closer anymore.