Win masks Leyland mismanagement
NEW YORK -- From the moment Tigers closer Jose Valverde stepped on the mound Saturday night, his manager got an uneasy feeling -- an uneasy feeling he chose to ignore to the detriment of his team.
"There were things I didn't really like," Jim Leyland said.
There's really no thinking to it. To continue putting Valverde out there could put Detroit's World Series dreams in jeopardy.
"It's down a little," Laird said. "But it's October, and guys are tired. So you have to be a little bit better with your location."
This is not a new problem, Valverde's velocity fell last year from an average of 95.2 mph in 2010 to 93.8 in 2011, according to fangraphs.com. And more recently, Valverde had three straight ineffective appearances in mid-September, and on Wednesday, he turned a 3-1 lead into a 4-3 loss in the ninth inning of Game 4 of the American League Division Series against Oakland.
That night, his fastball was again clocked at 92-93 mph, which is just a tick below his average of 93.3 mph this year. His location was also all over the place.
Nevertheless, Leyland went right back to Valverde on Saturday night when the Tigers entered the ninth inning with a 4-0 lead in Game 1 of the AL Championship Series at Yankee Stadium.
Valverde was in trouble immediately, allowing a leadoff single to Russell Martin. Leyland quickly got Octavio Dotel up in the bullpen, but he still allowed Valverde to take a pounding.
Valverde allowed four of the six hitters he faced to reach base as the Yankees tied the game on a pair of two-run home runs by Ichiro Suzuki and Raul Ibanez.
After the Tigers had rallied for a 6-4 victory in the 12th inning, Leyland was asked about leaving his closer out there to get hit hard for a second straight game.
Shouldn't he have pulled him after the Ichiro home run made it 4-2? Or after Mark Teixeira worked Valverde for a walk to bring Ibanez to the plate as the tying run?
Only after Ibanez homered on another pitch Valverde left in the middle of the strike zone did Leyland end his closer's night. He hinted he'd seen enough, saying he'd meet with his staff about Valverde's role and have more to say about it Sunday.
"We really want to put our heads together and discuss it first, to be honest with you," Leyland said, "and get together as a coaching staff and talk about it."
Why did he stay with Valverde anyway?
"Well, to be honest with you, it's one of those things," he said. "You know, he has been the closer, and he had a rough outing in Oakland and obviously a rough outing tonight, and that's why we are going to have a discussion. But Ibanez has had pretty good success off Dotel, not in a lot of at-bats, but pretty good success."
Leyland may not be excited about his options -- veteran right-handers Dotel or Joaquin Benoit or perhaps rookie left-hander Drew Smyly -- but it's almost unimaginable that he would hand Valverde another lead anytime soon.
That Leyland would be slow to pull the plug on his closer wouldn't be a surprise to the people who have followed his 21 years as a Major League manager.
He trusts his players and stands by them and defends them. Only now, after seeing Valverde lose it so dramatically, is he considering a switch.
"It is a very legitimate question," Leyland said, "but I just don't have an answer for you at this time."
As for Valverde, he stood in front of his locker and faced waves of reporters who approached him.
"I made two bad pitches," he said. "Those were the home runs."
He might be sugarcoating it just a bit. Martin's leadoff single came on a ball in a bad location, and then Teixeira did a terrific job working Valverde for a walk.
Valverde said he was not injured.
"I'm 100 percent," he said.
He said an occasional bad day at the office was the life of a closer.
"Only two things can happen to a closer: lose the game or save the game," he said. "I've done my job for a long time, and I think I can do it. It's happened two times -- in Oakland and now over here. There's nothing you can do. It's in the past. It's over. I have to be ready for tomorrow no matter what."
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.