Leyland not committing to a closer for World Series
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FRANCISCO -- All the preparation time for Jose Valverde is over. Decision time for Tigers manager Jim Leyland on his closer is here.
If Valverde's going to play a big role in the World Series, now is the time. Leyland, however, is sticking with his hints toward a closer by committee.
"Just going to play it by ear, see what happens," Leyland said Tuesday at AT&T Park, which will host Game 1 of the World Series on Wednesday night at 8 ET on FOX. "I don't really have any definite information on that yet. We'll just see how the game plays out, who's coming up. Like I always say, I hope we have that to worry about. If we do, we'll come up with somebody."
Leyland said much the same for the previous three days, while the Tigers were working out and scrimmaging at Comerica Park. The Tigers prepared Valverde as best they could in that time, short of pitching him in an actual game.
Valverde pitched in a simulated game Saturday against Tigers hitters who weren't swinging. Then, Valverde pitched in a scrimmage Sunday, giving up singles to Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder after walking Andy Dirks on four pitches. He recorded two outs before reaching his pitch count.
If Leyland plays the matchups, it's not going to be as simple to summon Phil Coke from the bullpen for the ninth inning. When Coke finished out the final three games of the American League Championship Series, he entered each time with the Yankees lineup bringing up left-handed hitters in succession and in the middle of their order.
Closer or not, Coke's job as a lefty reliever is to retire guys like Ichiro Suzuki, Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson. The Giants lineup plays out far differently.
The two dangerous batters in the middle of San Francisco's order, Hunter Pence and Buster Posey, are right-handed hitters. Pablo Sandoval is a switch-hitter. Their regular lefties -- Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford and Gregor Blanco -- bat near the bottom of the order.
Coke gave up a .396 average (40-for-101) to right-handed hitters in the regular season, with a .474 average on balls put in play. The slider that drew swings and misses in years past was not as effective for him.
That said, Coke has been more effective against right-handed hitters in the postseason, holding them to 2-for-13. His final inning to clinch the ALCS on Thursday night came against right-handed hitters.
It's a small sample size, obviously, but Leyland has to figure out if that success was a product of the Yankees' struggles in the ALCS or a sign of more effective pitching.
Leyland might have given a hint when he talked further about Coke on Tuesday.
"I think we'd be putting the cart before the horse all of a sudden to say he's a definite full-time closer," Leyland said. "I'll leave it at that. He did a terrific job, no doubt about that."
If Leyland wants a right-hander for the ninth, he still has other options. Joaquin Benoit has had his own struggles but could be in a prime position to succeed in San Francisco, where the ball doesn't necessarily carry as well at night and the lineup isn't as geared toward home runs.
Benoit led AL relievers with 14 home runs allowed, not counting a homer in the Division Series, but still limited opponents to 59 hits over 71 innings.
Yet if Valverde is going to regain his closer's role in this World Series, even on the basis of matchups, this might be the place to do it. By bringing Valverde back to action on the road, he'll actually avoid the potentially negative fan reception that could welcome him back at home for Games 3-5.