Originally posted on Fox Sports Detroit  |  Last updated 4/4/13
Now that Jose Valverde has signed a minor-league contract with the Tigers, the obvious question is: When will Papa Grande be back as the closer? The obvious answer is: When he can once again command his out-pitch, the split-fingered fastball at Triple-A Toledo. Valverde lost the ability to throw the splitter effectively late last season and became a one-pitch guy. However, FOX Sports Detroit Tigers analyst Rod Allen said the clubs scouting report on Valverde sounds as if hes gotten his repertoire back in order. His velocity is a little better, Allen said during Thursdays game telecast from Minneapolis. And he threw some split-fingered fastballs that were very good. Valverde repotedly is throwing mid-90 mph fastballs back home in the Dominican Republic. Allen went on to say that Valverde, 35, has lost weight and gotten into good shape. Hes hungry, Allen said. We shall see. Valverde saved 110 games for Detroit the last three years, including a club-record 49 without a blown save in 2011. Hes certainly worth a look-see with the closer-by-committee approach hardly making anyone feel secure. The Tigers can say that Phil Cokes blown save Wednesday in Minnesota didnt influence the decision on Valverde, who they've been talking about with agent Scott Boras for over a week. But the timing of the signing was not a coincidence in that regard. Tigers manager Jim Leyland and general manager Dave Dombrowski fully realize that an effective closer is all this club lacks. But they cant be too patient with Valverde if the splitter isnt splitting. Raul Ibanez of the New York Yankees crushed a Valverde splitter that din't break downward -- in essence a fastball down the pipe -- and tied Game 1 of the 2012 ALCS at Yankee Stadium. That was the end of Valverde as a credible closer. Having also blown the lead in Game 4 of the ALDS in Oakland a few days before deemed him unusable in that role. Valverde must go to extended spring training in Lakeland, Fla., and get his pitches and command down before getting a shot at closing for the Toledo Mud Hens. If he looks effective at Toledo, Valverde comes back to Detroit to attempt to close games. If he works out, Dombrowski told reporters hes already discussed the parameters of another contract with Boras. Detroit would be glad to pay good money again for a good Valverde. He made 9 million last year. Were trying to get better however we can, Dombrowski told FOX Sports Detroits John Keating of the signing. Valverde has a May 5 opt-out of the minor-league contract if hes not recalled to Detroit by then, which makes the deal low-risk financially. What do the Tigers do if Valverde remains a gopher-ball machine? They either hope somebody like Al Alburquerque shakes out of the committee as a confident closer, trade with a team such as the Washington Nationals (they have a closer surplus) or wait on Brian Wilson. Wilson is throwing again one year after his second Tommy John surgery, and Scott Miller of CBSSports.com quoted a source as saying Wilson will not throw for teams until hes 100 percent. He was listed at 80 to 85 percent one month ago and several weeks away from signing. If Wilson can still bring it, he becomes a great option for Detroit. But they might have to beat out his old team, San Francisco, because Giants manager Bruce Bochy hasn't ruled out going after his old reliable. One things for certain: Papa Grande is going to get a shot.
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