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Leyland unsure if Valverde will stay in closer role

The SportsXchange

Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland has something to think about before Sunday's second game of the American League Championship Series -- whether to change closers for the 169th game of the year.

After closer Jose Valverde was hammered for a second straight postseason game, Leyland hinted that a shift might be imminent.

"We're going to discuss this as a staff," Leyland said Saturday after the Tigers won Game 1 over the New York Yankees 6-4 in 12 innings, "and now is not the time to discuss it because we really haven't made any decisions. We want to put our heads together as a staff and talk about it. We're certainly going to talk about it. I don't have any final information, but it will be something we will discuss."

Whether Valverde is hiding an injury will be discussed.

Clearly something isn't right.

Valverde was throwing his fastball 90-93 mph, a couple of ticks below what it has been for most of the season. His split-finger was essentially a slow, hittable fastball with no movement. And whenever either pitch was near the center of the plate, it got whacked.

Ichiro Suzuki and Raul Ibanez both hit two-run home runs off Valverde in the ninth, negating a 4-0 lead Detroit had struggled to fashion.

In the fourth game of the AL Division Series against the Oakland A's, it took Valverde just three batters to erase a 3-1 lead. He got two outs in the ninth but then gave up an RBI single to hand the A's a victory.

"He's been the closer," said Leyland, who traditionally has backed his players through rough times. "He had a rough outing in Oakland, and he had a rough outing (Saturday).

"That's why we're going to have a discussion. But Ibanez has had pretty good success off (Octavio) Dotel and not in a lot of at-bats. I thought he might charge a fastball from him as well."

Dotel was warming up before Ibanez touched Valverde for the home run.

"We need to put our heads together as a staff and sit down and talk," Leyland said. "It's a very legitimate question, but we need to talk. I'll have something at my pregame press conference."

A reasonable expectation is that Leyland would switch to Dotel, who had his own problems trying to close games this season when Valverde was hurt. Dotel has 109 career saves.

Setup man Joaquin Benoit would be a candidate, but he's allowed 15 home runs this year. He's having his own problems trying to get through the eighth inning.

Phil Coke has struggled at times since early September. He pitched better Saturday and seems likely to help Detroit more wading through that thicket of left-handed hitters New York has in its lineup.

Al Alburquerque was a sensation last year in long relief but has only been pitching since September after having elbow surgery last winter.

Still, it seems likely a chance is going to be made, at least for a game or two.

"We're going to talk with him, talk with the staff," Leyland said. "Find out if there's something going on that maybe's being hidden. Or maybe not.

"We've been taking punches all year. If we're going to be good, we've got to be able to take a punch. We took a big punch. We took a right cross in that ninth inning, but we survived it."

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