Tigers find themselves riding closer carousel
DETROIT -- If the Tigers' closer situation is starting to feel like a soap opera to you, manager Jim Leyland can relate.
When Leyland was asked Monday afternoon how he would handle the ninth inning, he made the analogy.
"This is 'Days of Our Lives,' boys," Leyland said. "We'll find out tonight."
To call it a soap opera might be dramatic, but to call it day to day might not be. Three different Tigers relievers have tried to protect a lead to open the ninth inning. Drew Smyly faced the leadoff man on Wednesday in Kansas City, Jose Valverde pitched the ninth with a four-run lead on Friday at Minnesota, then Joaquin Benoit stayed in to finish the save against the Twins on Sunday.
In both Smyly's and Benoit's cases, they stayed in after the eighth inning to face either a left-handed batter or a switch-hitter. Left-handers aren't exactly torching Valverde, batting .231 (7-for-32), but three of those seven hits have been home runs.
If Valverde is having continued trouble with the splitter, that could be a bigger factor. According to STATS, opposing hitters have swung and missed at just 17.2 percent of Valverde's fastballs this season. On fastballs in the strike zone, that swing-and-miss rate drops to just 9.2 percent.
Nothing at this point is set in stone.
"I have a thought process before the game," Leyland said, "but sometimes that changes. If you look at what happened yesterday, their lineup that happened to come up in that inning dictated that. I thought Benoit's repertoire was better for that."