Originally posted on Fox Sports Detroit
By STEVE KORNACKI  |  Last updated 8/16/13
By STEVE KORNACKIFOXSPORTSDETROIT.COMDETROIT Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland said Fridaymorning that he most likely wont be able to use closer Joaquin Benoit ineither game of the day-night doubleheader with the Kansas City Royals.Benoit threw 41 pitches and completed 2 23 innings inearning clutch saves on Wednesday and Thursday.Im not sure if I can (use Benoit), Leyland said. Imgoing to check, but Im not going to take any chances. And I probably wont use(Bruce) Rondon either.Rondon, a rookie, has pitched in three of the last fourgames. He totaled 2 23 innings with a very economical 34 pitches by virtue ofissuing nary a walk. And hes not allowed a run despite striking out just onebatter over that stretch displaying that hes learning how to pitch.Both pitchers have been critical during a 19-5 stretch thathas enabled Detroit to build a 6.5-game lead on the Cleveland Indians and an8.5-game lead on the Royals.Leyland listed Al Alburquerque, Jose Veras, Phil Coke, DrewSmyly and Jeremy Bonderman as his late-inning options. Leyland said hedprefer holding onto Bonderman as the potential long man in the night gamebecause rookie Jose Alvarez has been called up to start it. Alvarez (1-2, 5.03ERA) has thrown between three and six innings in four major league starts.Getting seven-plus innings out of afternoon game starterJustin Verlander will be critical to keeping the bullpen fresh for a minimum of18 innings.Rondon, 22, has settled down in his second stint with theclub after dealing with the pressure of attempting and failing to win thecloser role in spring training.You cant rush these babies, Leyland said. They have tocrawl before they can walk at this levelHes doing well; Im really happy withhim.Leyland credited Benoit and now Veras, acquired two weeksago, with mentoring Rondon.And Benoit perfect in 16 save opportunities with a 1.45ERA and 1.03 WHIP -- has become Detroits third most valuable player behindMiguel Cabrera and Max Scherzer.Making Benoit the closer has taken care of a lot of things,said Leyland. Hes a very bright guyHes got really good mental furniture.Leyland added that Benoits ability to read the hitterssets him apart.Weve just got to read him and take care of him, Leylandsaid. And we will take care of him. You cant get greedy.DIRKS IS FEELING IT: Tigers left fielder Andy Dirks wascoming off a 2-for-17 showing (.118) on the road trip. However, he matched acareer-high for hits Thursday night with a 4-for-4 outing in the leadoff spot.Dirks scored two runs in the 4-1 win.I felt my swing, Dirks said Friday morning. Theres noformula for hitting; its a feel thing. Its going back more to what I wasdoing before. Its a rhythm thing, and Im opening my stance up again to whereI got the feel.Dirks is batting .252 with a .358 slugging percentage (20extra-base hits) and 26 RBIs in 330 at-bats.Last year, he hit .322 with a .487 slugging percentage (31extra-base hits) and 35 RBIs in 314 at-bats.Leyland has stayed with Dirks throughout his struggles, and parceledout only four starts against right-handed pitchers to Matt Tuiasosopo, whoplatoons against lefty starters. If Thursday nights feel good hittingperformance is the beginning of a trend, it could be one way the Tigers make upfor the loss of shortstop Jhonny Peralta (50-game PED suspension).WATCHING INFANTE: Tigers second baseman Omar Infante isbatting .412 (7-for-17) since returning from the disabled list with a sprained leftankle. Hes starting his fifth consecutive game in Fridays opener, but Leylandsgiving him the night game off.Hes a little sluggish, Leyland said. Im a littleconcernedHe was favoring it a little bit.Infante spent 39 days on the shelf after suffering theinjury on a questionable slide by Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Colby Rasmus onJuly 3, and dealt with setbacks on his rehabilitation assignment.
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