Coming into the 2013 season if you told me that Jose Valverde would be closing for the Detroit Tigers in April I would have told you to sit down before you hurt yourself. He had one of the worst late season meltdowns I’ve ever seen in Major League Baseball, finishing the playoffs with an ERA over 30.00.
Nevertheless, he is the closer for Detroit, at least for the time being. So far he’s come into two games and has yet to allow a base runner. Don’t worry; I’m as surprised as you are. Even in his perfect 2011 season where he had 49 saves in 49 attempts, he managed to make it as interesting as he could, often letting multiple batters on base before eventually getting the save.
I was never in favor of bringing “Papa Grande” back basically because I didn’t think he was the same pitcher he was a few years ago. Well, so far I’ve been wrong. Not only has he been throwing strikes, but he’s been throwing heat. Last year he lost a lot of velocity, but this year in his two games against the Kansas City Royals and Atlanta Braves he’s thrown around 95 MPH, a great improvement from 2012.
He’s shown to be able to make adjustments, something he failed to do last year. He’s gotten rid of his “belly turn” in his motion, a great sight for many fans. He’s also started to use a full windup when there are no runners on base. These little things along with a mechanical change that allows him to throw more over top and get his late movement back on his pitches has made a great difference.
I want to see a little more of him before I declare that he’s the old Valverde, but at the same time, I’m very impressed to say the least. He seems to be on the right track, and if he can continue to throw strikes he might be the piece that the Tigers needed. The bullpen was the weak link when everyone talks about the Tigers winning the World Series, but if that is taken care of it seems like they are in good shape.