How to use Valverde a big question mark for Tigers
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ROIT -- As it turned out, the Tigers didn't need Jose Valverde in order to sweep the Yankees and get to the World Series. Phil Coke finished out their last three games, capped by the final two innings in Detroit's 8-1 win in Game 4 on Thursday night at Comerica Park.
What happens from here, however, is an open question, and likely the biggest the Tigers will face in the days leading up to Game 1 of the Fall Classic, on Wednesday night in either St. Louis or San Francisco.
"I don't know what's going to happen from this point on," manager Jim Leyland said after Thursday's win. "Obviously, a lot of people are going to be saying, 'Save with Coke' now, but we will play it by ear."
This could be one area in which the Tigers actually benefit from the long layoff between series.
Valverde hasn't pitched in a game since giving up a pair of two-run homers last Saturday night in the American League Championship Series opener at Yankee Stadium. Leyland said after the game that pitching coach Jeff Jones was working with Valverde to try to quicken his delivery.
Leyland left open the possibility in Games 3 and 4 that Valverde could pitch but that matchups would dictate how the bullpen was used. Justin Verlander's performance in Game 3 meant that they needed just two outs of relief, and the lefty-heavy middle of New York's order made Coke the guy to get them.
Had Game 4 taken place on Wednesday night as scheduled, Valverde might well have finished out the game, since Coke wasn't available. Wednesday's rainout changed that, and the left-handed hitters the Yankees stacked against starter Max Scherzer made for an easy decision to go back to Coke for the eighth inning.
"We put him in there, really didn't have a lot of time to think about it, and he reacted unbelievably," Leyland said.
With a clinching victory just three outs away, Leyland kept Coke in for the ninth with a seven-run lead.
The flip side is that Valverde's next action in a real game will come in the World Series, if at all. That part had Leyland thinking about his decision in hindsight.
"I kind of questioned myself last night," Leyland told ESPN Radio's Mike and Mike in the Morning show Friday morning. "Should I have brought him in maybe that last inning to get him back out there? But I wasn't sure how the emotion would be in that situation after he had a couple tough outings. So I thought it wasn't the time. But he'll definitely be an important factor for us in this World Series."
No matter which National League team advances, the matchups will be vastly different from what they had with the Yankees.
Although the Cardinals also have a good number of left-handed hitters, three of their best hitters -- Matt Holliday, Allen Craig and David Freese -- all bat right-handed. Likewise, Giants catcher and NL MVP candidate Buster Posey is one of the most dangerous right-handed hitters in the Senior Circuit right now.
Those batters don't present matchups that favor Valverde so much as they don't match up nearly as well for Coke. So whether it's the ninth inning or another time, Valverde could be important.
"I think you'll definitely see him in the ninth inning," Leyland told ESPN Radio. "I think it's a matter of what game it might be. It depends on how the lineup turns over, who's coming up."
Getting Valverde ready to pitch in a game could make this weekend critical. The Tigers spent Thursday putting their plan into action for simulated games in Detroit on Sunday and Monday before they travel for the World Series opener.
Those games will feature Tigers prospects currently playing in the Florida instructional league, as well as Tigers players who did not make the postseason roster but stayed fresh in Florida in case of injuries. They could be the low-intensity scenario to get Valverde facing hitters again without postseason pressure off the bat.