Originally posted on Fox Sports Detroit  |  Last updated 2/27/12
LAKELAND, Fla. -- If you're visiting the Tigers at their spring training home and you can't locate Jose Valverde, all you have to do is close your eyes and listen. You're sure to hear the voluble Dominican Republic native first, even though the 6-foot-4 Valverde is not hard to spot. As good a season as AL MVP and Cy Young winner Justin Verlander had, it probably wouldn't have been possible without Valverde there to close out his games. In his own way, Valverde was just as impressive as Verlander was last season, going a perfect 49-for-49 in save opportunities. In doing so, Valverde broke a 27-year-old team record of 32 straight converted saves, set by Guillermo Hernandez in 1984. Valverde became the second Tiger to reach 40 or more saves in a season, joining Todd Jones, who had 42 saves in 2000. Valverde has represented the Tigers in the All-Star Game the last two seasons and was named the Delivery Man of the Year, which goes to the most outstanding relief pitcher in the regular season. As with Verlander, his fellow JV, manager Jim Leyland was asked how Valverde could top that. "How do you improve on what he did? That's just one of those once-in-a-lifetime years for any pitcher," Leyland said. "He's going to be great this year. "But is he going to be 49-for-49? I can't answer that." Leyland would no doubt be delighted to hear what Valverde said about last season. "Last year, it's crazy what I'm doing, but it's over already," Valverde said. "I have to figure out what I have to do this year because now is spring training. "I have to work on what I have to throw in the season. Working for my sinker, working for my split-finger, all that." There is one thing that carries over from last season: Valverde's consecutive saves streak. When Eric Gagne was with the Los Angeles Dodgers, he went 55-for-55 in save chances in 2003 and ran his string to 84 straight in the 2004 season. Valverde, who has 75 saves in two seasons with the Tigers, still has a chance to break Gagne's record. "It's a lot. It's too much," Valverde said with a laugh. "If I do 85, there will be celebration, a lot. I have to start working right now on some dancing if I do 85 saves." Whether it's "too much" or not, Leyland will definitely be putting Valverde out there when the game's on the line in the ninth inning. "I obviously feel very comfortable putting him in there," Leyland said. "He knows how to prepare himself and he knows how to do it. That's why he's real good at it. "He's a special guy, he's a fun-loving guy, he's a good guy, he's got a great face, the whole ball of wax. "He's a real serious guy when he's on that mound. It may not appear that way to people because they know his personality, whatever that is, but he's real serious about what he does." Valverde is as exuberant and loud as the day is long, but that's part of what makes him successful. He has to be himself. "I have to be loud, like crazy, in my car, with the music and everything," Valverde said. "One of my friends when he ride with me told me, 'What are you doing?' "I say, 'Do your thing, let me do mine.' I don't want to be nervous in the game." Some people like to have quiet time, but Valverde said he doesn't need quiet. Ever. "In the Dominican, I have my ranch. I want to have noise everywhere," Valverde said. "I like it. "To be so serious, you be old quick. I don't want to be old." Valverde, 34, doesn't have to worry about being the oldest reliever, not with 38-year-old Octavio Dotel, a fellow Dominican, joining the Tigers this season. Along with Joaquin Benoit, also from the Dominican Republic and several months older than Valverde, the Tigers have a formidable Dominican-dominant back of the bullpen. Valverde was thrilled that Dotel made the Tigers his league-record 13th team and believes he can help the Tigers reach Valverde's ultimate goal, which has nothing to do with a saves record. "It's great," Valverde said. "Dotel is one of the guys. I think everybody would want to play with this guy. He play for a long time. He play for Houston, Oakland, Yankees. He know what he's doing. "I watch this guy pitching last year, and I feel great because he was in the World Series last year. "The Tigers have a chance to win the World Series. I think he bring energy for that."
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