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Tigers giving former closer Valverde another chance

The SportsXchange

It didn't take long for the Detroit Tigers to admit that maybe they had made a mistake.

After watching Phil Coke blew a save -- and a game -- in his second chance in two games, the Tigers

inked former closer Jose Valverde to a minor league contract Thursday and sent him to high Class A

Lakeland to work himself into game shape.

Closer by committee, it seems, has been trumped by a committee of one -- manager Jim Leyland.

Coke saved Detroit's season opener in Minnesota but made two bad pitches -- high fastballs -- as the

Twins rallied from a 2-1 deficit Wednesday to take a 3-2 victory with one out in the ninth.

GM Dave Dombrowski deflected the notion Detroit was reacting to a blown save in the season's second

game.

"No," he said. "This is something, we've been talking to Valverde's agent, Scott Boras, for a while. We

actually saw him pitch last week.

"We're in a situation where we're mixing and matching at the end of the game. That can work and it has

worked in the past, but we're also open, if something can make us better, we're also open to that."

Valverde was allowed to leave as a free agent after three disastrous appearances in the playoffs. He

saved 35 games in 40 chances during the regular season but his strikeout total was down, his velocity was

markedly off and his split-finger fastball was either inconsistent or nonexistent.

"He's out there as a free agent and we're trying to get better however we possibly can," Dombrowski

said. "It's a situation where he decided to accept a Triple-A contract. We figured we have nothing to lose

by taking a look at him. If he can make us better over the long haul, then we're open-minded to it."

The failure of rookie Bruce Rondon, who sparkled at three levels in the Detroit organization last

season, to nail down the closer's role in spring training or to even pitch well enough to make the team

left the Tigers without a viable alternative to playing mix-and-match at the back end of games.

Leyland went that route in the early 1990s for championship Pittsburgh teams but reiterated this winter

he's a one-closer kind of manager.

If Valverde can show Detroit velocity consistently in the mid-90s with an effective split-finger at

Lakeland, it intends to bump him quickly to Triple-A Toledo to see how he fares there as a prelude to a

possible return to the Tigers. He can opt out of the contract on May 5.
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