Originally posted on Fox Sports Detroit  |  Last updated 6/20/13
By DAVE HOGGFOXSPORTSDETROIT.COM The Tigers have a new closer and his name is Joaquin Benoit. Jim Leyland made the announcement before Thursday's series opener with Boston and one day after Jose Valverde's latest pitching mound meltdown. Valverde allowed four runs in his first 10 pitches against the Orioles, including a long homer by Chris Davis. "Right now, I'm going to close games with Benoit, as long as he is healthy and available," Leyland said. "I can't predict how games will go, and there might be times when he's not available to pitch, but when he's ready, he's who we are going to use." Benoit didn't want to comment about his new job, since Leyland hadn't talked to him yet, but said that it is difficult having it up in the air. "It's a tough situation for all of the bullpen guys, not knowing who is going to close," he said. After telling the media that it would be Benoit, Leyland scoffed at a question about if he would be clear about his new role. "If I bring him into the ninth inning and it is a save situation, I suspect he'll be able to figure out that I want him to close out the game," Leyland said. "He's a smart guy." Benoit isn't worried about going from the set-up role to the ninth. "You get three outs in the eighth and you get three outs in the ninth," he said. "The only difference is that you get to shake hands after the ninth." Leyland quickly tired of talking about the bullpen, saying the media was "beating a dead horse," but he did admit that he now faces a dilemma with Valverde. He knows Papa Grande, more than almost any other pitcher, needs his juices to be flowing to be effective. That was painfully evident Wednesday when Valverde came in with the Tigers trailing 9-3 and threw what looked like a glorified batting-practice session. So the Tigers aren't ready to get rid of Valverde, but after demoting him from the closer's job, it is hard to see a role for him that will produce the edge-of-the-seat drama that he craves. Even Benoit's set-up role, which is often as delicate as closing, isn't an option with Valverde pitching so poorly. The Tigers needs to find out if Valverde can fix himself, but if he can't learn how to focus in low-intensity situations, that's nearly impossible to do. "It's a great question," Leyland said. "All I can do is see how games develop, and try to use him in an intelligent manner." Leyland left unanswered the questions about the backup closer. Benoit has never been a full-time closer, and the Tigers have shown concern in the past about his ability to handle the job on a full-time basis. At the moment, with Valverde out of the picture, Detroit would have to look to Drew Smyly or postseason hero Phil Coke to pick up the slack when Benoit needs a night off. AVILA AND SANCHEZ HEALING: Alex Avila and Anibal Sanchez, who both went on the disabled list Monday, both remain on target for a return as soon as they are eligible. Leyland said that Avila's badly bruised left forearm is almost entirely pain-free, and that he will go on a minor-league rehab assignment as soon as this weekend. Sanchez will miss two starts -- the first one coming Thursday night -- during a 15-day stint on the DL, and the Tigers expect him to be ready for the one after that. BULLPEN REPORT: Leyland said that he plans to give Darin Downs the night off -- he has pitched three times in five days after only been on the mound once in the previous 22 -- but the rest of the relievers should be good to go.
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