Valverde's funk deepens with struggles in opener
Right-hander surrenders two runs on four hits while retiring one batter
SAN FRANCISCO -- It's a reach, perhaps, but the Tigers' early deficit seemed to have a silver lining heading into Wednesday's bottom of the seventh from AT&T Park, even though they trailed the Giants by five and were six outs at the plate from dropping Game 1 of the World Series. This was their chance to finally get Jose Valverde in a game, in a nonthreatening situation that could give him something to build on, en route to becoming a useful ninth-inning weapon again.
But it only sunk him further.
And now, after giving up two runs on four hits to five batters, it's fair to ask whether Valverde will pitch in another game this season.
"You never know," Valverde said after the Tigers' eventual 8-3 loss. "You have to play 'til it's over."
Making his first appearance since unraveling in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series 11 days ago, Valverde once again struggled to miss bats and in the process made some unwanted history. He got to 3-2 on Tim Lincecum before finally striking him out, then gave up a double to Angel Pagan and a single to Marco Scutaro, both on 0-2 counts. Pablo Sandoval, who homered in his first three plate appearances, followed with a single, and so did Buster Posey, ending Valverde's night.
Setup man Joaquin Benoit, whose importance level is greater now than ever, ended the inning with back-to-back strikeouts.
|Jose Valverde||2012||3||48.60||1 2/3||9|
|Ben Weber||2002||2||27.00||1 1/3||4|
|Mike Timlin||2004||2||33.75||1 1/3||5|
Valverde joined Tom Gordon (2004 Yankees) as the only relievers to allow at least two runs in less than one inning three different times in the same postseason. In Game 4 of the AL Division Series, Valverde gave up three runs in a walk-off loss to the A's. In Game 1 of the ALCS, he allowed the Yankees to tie it with two two-run, ninth-inning homers.
In the World Series opener, his problems persisted.
"You know, he wasn't terrible; he just wasn't good," said Tigers manager Jim Leyland. "For whatever reason, [the ball] just doesn't seem to be coming out quite right.
"It's a little bit puzzling, to be honest with you. It looks like it's just not quite exploding. But that's pretty much all I can say about that."
Pitching coach Jeff Jones was pleased with Valverde, though. Jones felt the right-hander featured some good split-fingered fastballs, his velocity was better -- Valverde hit 93 mph four times and 94 twice -- and was quicker to the plate with his left leg, an adjustment Valverde had been working on.
Valverde echoed most of the same things.
His mechanics, he said, "are much better. My leg is quicker. My hands, too."
His velocity, he believes, is not an issue, saying: "It's not about throwing 97, 98; you have to move the ball everywhere."
The fact that he didn't have the adrenaline of the ninth inning, and hadn't entered a game this early since 2006, was no excuse.
And when asked where his confidence level is at right now, he suddenly perked up.
"I'm confident already," responded Valverde, a free agent at season's end. "I never lose my confidence."
Jones said Valverde's problems were mechanical, rather than rooted in lack of confidence.
"When you have a couple of outings like he did, you're liable to lose a little bit of confidence," Jones said. "But once we worked in the bullpen and ironed out some things, I think the lack of confidence or losing confidence was no problem."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.