Tigers' Leyland forced to juggle bullpen

The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

The absence of a certified closer hurt Detroit for the first time in the postseason Thursday night, and it's something Jim Leyland is going to have to deal with if the Tigers are to get out of their 0-2 hole to San Francisco and win the World Series.
Some people will recall that Leyland dealt with not having a bona fide closer with his quality Pittsburgh Pirates teams of the late 1980s and early 1990s. He mixed and matched and won games on a regular basis.
But he hasn't been shy about pointing out this month that it makes it a whole lot easier on a manager if he has one guy he can summon from the bullpen to get the last three outs of games on a regular basis.
With Jose Valverde, who's been excellent finishing games for the Tigers for the better part of three seasons, having been removed from his closing role because of three straight poundings, Leyland has been scrambling to find bullpen solutions.
Detroit lost to San Francisco 2-0 Thursday night. And while getting shut out makes everything else moot, there's no question not having Valverde looming at the end of games made Leyland shuffle his pitching deck after Doug Fister was removed following a leadoff single in the seventh inning of a scoreless game.
Leyland called on lefty Drew Smyly to face three straight left-handed hitters the Giants were sending to the plate.
"Smyly's been doing a pretty good job," Leyland said. "If you look at what he did in the Yankees series, he was pretty impressive two times out. That was a no-brainer for me.
"But you're right. Probably if Valverde was really closing it I probably would have gone with (Phil) Coke in that situation. But Smyly did fine. He got a little bit wild, but he got a couple big outs. He got a double-play ball. He gave us our shot at it."
Smyly walked the first batter he faced on a 3-2 pitch, continuing the trend the starter has had when brought into innings with runners on base as opposed to starting an inning clean. A bunt that didn't go foul turned into a bases-loading single, and then the game's first run scored when Brandon Crawford hit into a double play with the middle infielders playing back.
Would Coke have done better in that spot? We'll never know, but it was the kind of situation Coke has been used in this season. It's a new experience for Smyly.
Leyland will probably use Coke or Joaquin Benoit, or both, to close games depending upon who the Giants have coming up in the ninth. Benoit has been used as the setup man for the bulk of the season with Octavio Dotel working mainly seventh innings, except when he has filled in for Benoit or Valverde.
Smyly walked the first batter of the eighth and after a one-out stolen base intentionally walked Pablo Sandoval. Dotel came in and unintentionally walked Buster Posey, setting up Hunter Pence for a sacrifice fly and a 2-0 lead.
"I have great confidence in our bullpen," Leyland said. "Benoit threw great (Wednesday night). Coke's been throwing great. (Rick) Porcello's been throwing the ball good. (Al) Alburquerque threw the ball good.
"The minute you lose a quote-unquote true closer, or people think you have, then people begin to question your bullpen a little bit more. Because there's more conversation: Who you going to use? How you going to mix and match?"
Scoring more runs would help. Scoring any runs would help.

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