Each Monday, good or bad, we’ll look back at the biggest theme of the week that was for the Detroit Tigers.
Forever, the biggest story in the young 2013 season for the Tigers has been the team’s troubles in the bullpen stemming from the lack of a closer. Last week, though, everything changed with the arrival of a familiar face.
Jose Valverde, sporting a new delivery and a two-toned goatee while missing his usual glasses and 10 pounds, came in Tuesday night and quickly gained a save against the Kansas City Royals. Despite two hard hit balls, there was little drama. Saturday afternoon, Valverde slammed the door against the Atlanta Braves collecting his first two strikeouts of the year. Sunday, in a non-save situation with two runners on, Valverde put the finishing touches on a weekend sweep by not allowing a run.
Who is this guy? Suddenly, Valverde looked more like the pitcher who once converted 49 straight saves for the Tigers in 2011 instead of the guy getting rocked repeatedly and making every save an adventure in 2012. If time heals all wounds, perhaps it can also cure deliveries and confidence problems, as well.
No matter if a new mindset or bleach job caused the resurgence, it’s important for the Tigers to have Valverde in the back end of their bullpen. Having a real closer allows everybody else to relax and settle into their usual roles. Phil Coke doesn’t have to pretend to be a closer, and Joaquin Benoit, Octavio Dotel and Al Alburquerque can handle innings six through eight. With Valverde back, Detroit’s bullpen suddenly has some much needed depth and can get back to the bread and butter which made them successful in the past.
For confidence sake, it was also important for Valverde to get off to a good start himself. Had he not converted a few saves immediately and had a stress free outing in a non-save situation, fans would have probably come completely unglued, causing Valverde added pressure. Now that the first week is successfully behind him, Valverde can settle in and get down to business as usual, which is good news.
Having a regular closer back on the job can be a huge boost for the Tigers, a team which obviously needs the certainty of an established player getting them saves to enjoy big success.
Our Facebook feedback of the week naturally focuses on Valverde’s return, and the reaction of the fans when they heard he was finally on his way back to Detroit. Many people didn’t like the news, obviously, but above all the noise, one particular reader was ahead of the curve with his analysis.
Jay Vander Myde: If he has control of his pitches, he can’t be any worse.
Thus far, Jay is right. Valverde, with control, has actually been much better.
Max DeMara is a senior editor at The Detroit Sports Site. You can find him on Twitter @SportsGuyTheMax