It seems like a lifetime ago that the one-time All-Star closer compiled a perfect 49-0 season. After imploding in spectacular fashion during the 2012 playoffs, some thought he would never pitch in the big leagues again. But, perhaps improbably, he did. After Bruce Rondon proved he was unable to get the job done at the end of games this season, and the Tigers' backup plan of closer-by-committee didn't work out, Valverde was brought back to right the ship. It wasn't always pretty. While he had a few 1-2-3 innings, several of his return performances were blemished by giving up multiple home runs, and allowing opponents that looked down and out a chance to crawl back into the game. After hearing the jeers from fans, and finally growing tired of saying Valverde was not the problem, GM Dave Dombrowski and manager Jim Leyland sent him down to their AAA affiliate to work on his pitching repertoire.
Valverde's stint in AAA began last week for the Toledo Mud Hens, and he has looked good so far in the three games he has appeared in. This past Thursday, he pitched one inning of relief and was able to record three consecutive outs to secure a blowout victory. He was then back on the hill Saturday and Sunday nights for his first attempts at a save situation.
While "Papa Grande" easily hit the low to mid 90s on his fastball, it wasn't the heater that he ever had problems with. Valverde has clearly been trying to mix his pitches, throwing off-speed at times to keep the hitters guessing. He was rewarded with two strikeouts, and closed the game without much trouble on Saturday, and was able to avoid any trouble Sunday as well. It has been nice to see him pumping his fist in celebration once again.
But it is important to remember that these are minor league hitters, some of whom may even be intimidated by a pitcher with his track record. The real question is, can he get MLB hitters out with his current efforts? Or will his inconsistency in big moments again lead to the Tigers snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, and force Dombrowski and Leyland to point the finger elsewhere once more?
With Valverde in Toledo, Joaquin Benoit has been the relief pitcher tasked with closing most games now in Detroit. So far, from all estimations, he is doing a great job of it, despite the fact he had relatively little experience as a closer until this point in his career. Precisely because of Benoit's success, the future for Valverde in the Detroit Tigers organization is unclear. If you ask Valverde, as Detroit Free Press columnist Jeff Seidel did recently, he will be back in "two or three weeks." But to do what, exactly? Languish in the bullpen?
The fact is, Jose Valverde simply cannot be trusted. He has had a fine career; one he should look back on fondly. But no other teams are beating down the Tigers door looking to trade for him, and he would immediately make any lead shaky should he get the ball late in the game. The day may soon come where the organization is forced to cut their losses, thank him for his years of service, and wish him well in his future endeavors.
Only time will tell if Valverde's prediction of his imminent return is accurate. But, should he actually return to Motown, his future as a closer looks bleak. For now, it seems that manager Jim Leyland feels much more confident with Benoit on the mound in the 9th.
I think Tigers fans would agree.
Jason Korbus is a lifelong Detroit Tigers fan, born and raised in Toledo, OH. He has covered news, sports and pop culture for Examiner.com, The Bent Spoon Magazine, and a variety of other print and online publications. He also hosts Strange Frequencies Radio. You can follow him on Twitter @Korbus
- Sports & Recreation
- Detroit Tigers
- Jose Valverde
- Jim Leyland