Jose Valverde threw a few pitches during Detroit’s workout, and then returned to the dugout as upbeat as usual.
Valverde’s role for the World Series still isn’t clear, but the right-hander doesn’t appear to care.
”I don’t care. All I want is to be a champion,” he announced. ”If I had to start, I’d do it.”
Valverde has been Detroit’s closer for 3 years and did not blow a save through all of 2011, but this postseason has been ugly. He lost Game Four of the division series against Oakland and gave up 4 runs in the American League championship series opener against the Yankees. The Tigers went on to win that game and sweep the series, but Valverde hasn’t been used since.
The World Series begins Wednesday at either St. Louis or San Francisco. Valverde sounds confident he’s made the necessary mechanical adjustments, and so does manager Jim Leyland.
”I think everyone’s making too big of a deal of the Valverde situation. Valverde’s going to be prepared. There’s nothing wrong with Valverde. He is going to be fine,” Leyland recounted. ”I got a kick out of it. No-one wanted me to pitch him, but everyone asks me every day if he’s going to be the closer. I don’t know what they’re expecting, but I’m going to just see what happens.”
Leyland went with other options after Valverde’s meltdown against the New York Yankees. Left-hander Phil Coke got the save in Games 2 and 3. Baseball spreads
The more flexible approach to the late innings allowed Leyland to use Coke in crucial spots against a N.Y lineup that has plenty of left-handed power. Against the Cardinals or Giants, Valverde might be back in his old role. Apart from Coke, Detroit’s top relief options include right-handers Joaquin Benoit, Octavio Dotel and Al Alburquerque. Benoit has had difficulty keeping the ball in the park this season.
”Sometimes the most important out is in the 7th inning or 8th inning, not necessarily in the 9th inning,” Leyland asserted in the series against New York. ”That’s why when you start going by committee, that’s what ‘committee’ means. You said, ‘This is the most important out I must get. I am going to use my bullet now and take my possibilities later.”’
Still, Leyland sounds ready for Valverde to contribute again.
”To me, you have got to pinch hit in the National League cities, you’re going to have to use your pitchers, so if you support, that’s just the way that it is,” Leyland asserted. ”I think he’ll be a big part of this World Series.”
Coke, in the meantime, has been under the spotlights more than usual, and he’s actually enjoying the ride.
”I don’t have any idea what’s going on. I just know I’m having a good time,” Coke said recently. ”And we have got a common goal that we are making an attempt to achieve, and the last thing I want to be known for is the one that didn’t do his job.”
It has been a trying year at times for Leyland, who admitted his team underachieved for a lot of the season. But now Detroit is ready for a chance to shine on the game’s biggest stage.