Originally posted on Fox Sports Detroit  |  Last updated 6/19/13
Michigan-news-april-2010
DETROIT -- Jim Leyland felt like he needed to get Jose Valverde some work Wednesday. In doing so, he might have hastened the end of Papa Grande's second act in a Tigers uniform. Leyland brought Valverde in to pitch the ninth inning, but this was no save situation. It wasn't even one of those five-run leads that have given Valverde trouble throughout his career in Detroit. This time, Valverde was coming into a game where the Tigers were losing 9-3 -- he was pitching mop-up duty in a blowout. "I wasn't looking for a low-pressure situation for him at all," Leyland said. "He hadn't pitched since Friday, so he was going to pitch today, no matter what." By putting Valverde -- already struggling badly -- into a situation that was basically a lost cause, Leyland risked disaster from a pitcher who is famous for losing focus when his adrenalin isn't pumping. It didn't help that Valverde was going to be facing the heart of Baltimore's explosive offense. Add it all up, and Leyland was putting a player into a situation to fail, not to succeed. Failure is exactly what he got. Ten pitches into the inning, Valverde had already given up four runs on four hits. Manny Machado and Nick Markakis lined clean singles and Adam Jones smacked a two-run double. Valverde was trying to throw his splitter -- he and pitching coach Jeff Jones have been working on his grip -- but it wasn't working. The next batter? Chris Davis, the man who is trying to singlehandedly keep Miguel Cabrera from winning another Triple Crown. Davis already had two homers in the series, including one off Rick Porcello earlier in the game, and it didn't take long for him to find another pitch he liked. Valverde threw another lifeless splitter -- a pitch that is basically a batting-practice fastball -- and Davis crushed it over the right-field fence for his 26th homer of the season. Valverde eventually escaped the inning without allowing any more runs, but he was loudly booed by the few fans that were left at the end of a 13-3 loss. "You hate to see that happen to any player, especially a veteran, but it is part of our business," Leyland said. "It wasn't a good performance, and I'm certainly not going to tell our fans that they don't have the right to express their feelings about it. I understand that entirely." Leyland wasn't happy with what he saw from Valverde's reworked splitter -- "he threw one good one and quite a few bad ones" -- but he also acknowledged that he hadn't put the Potato in a great spot. "When you are a closer, you are used to pitching in situations where the game is on the line, and it can be tough to get ready in a situation like the one today," he said. "But that's not an excuse -- I'm not going to make any excuses for what happened out there. He needed an opportunity to pitch, he got one and it didn't go well." So what happens now? Valverde has already lost his job as the closer -- Leyland has said that they are going back to the same mix-and-match system that he planned to try at the beginning of the season -- and he struggles when asked to pitch in any other role. That leaves him without a job unless he can figure out a way to get back to the level that he pitched at in 2011. When he was rushed to Detroit after just a few innings between extended spring training and Single-A ball, Dave Dombrowski told the media that the reports had been glowing -- he was throwing in the mid-90s again and the splitter had come back. The reality, though, has been quite different. Valverde's average fastball has been 92.8 mph -- he was at 95.2 in his first year as a Tiger -- and his splitter is slower and much less effective. In fact, studies using the automated PITCHfx system show that Valverde's splitter has been the worst of any pitcher in the majors. Whatever Dombrowski's scouts saw in Florida hasn't made it to the major-leagues, leaving Valverde trying to get by with two pitches, neither of which are working at the moment. Valverde's Tigers career isn't officially over -- Leyland didn't want to talk about the possibility of a roster move without discussing it with Dombrowski and his coaching staff -- but he's clearly running out of time. Which leaves one more question -- the same one that has been bothering everyone since Bruce Rondon struggled in spring training. How has a World Series contender found itself with with the fourth-biggest payroll in baseball and no closer?
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