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Detroit Tigers: Jim Leyland Has Completely Botched Recent Bullpen Moves

DETROIT, MI - APRIL 24: Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland #10 congratulates Jose Valverde #46 after the Tigers defeated the Royals at Comerica Park on April 24, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan. The Tigers defeated the Royal 7-5. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
Leon Halip/Getty Images
Josh BerenterCorrespondent IJuly 1, 2016

Jim Leyland has no idea what he's doing with the Detroit Tigers bullpen.

I've been in Leyland's corner for the past several years, defending his moves as the Tigers manager, but recent moves have led me to change my mind.

Completely.

On Tuesday, after putting reliever Octavio Dotel on the disabled list, Leyland called up rookie Bruce Rondon, and after the Tigers' game against the Kansas City Royals was rained out, Detroit's skipper announced he was calling up beleaguered closer Jose Valverde.

After Valverde spun out of control toward the end of the 2012 regular season, and completely lost his mind in the playoffs, allowing nine runs in 2 2/3 innings, the Tigers granted the 35-year-old free agency immediately after the season was lost.

They had the entire offseason to find a suitable replacement.

The successor Leyland chose:

Rondon, the unproven rookie who had only 29 2/3 combined innings experience above the Single-A level.

Sight unseen, Leyland and general manager Dave Dombrowski took turns praising the 22-year-old.

But to the chagrin of Leyland and the Tigers GM, Rondon was mediocre at best during spring training and was sent down to Triple-A Toledo on March 28.

Which left the Tigers without a closer.

Actually, it left them with a closer-by-committee experiment, which in essence, left Detroit without a closer.

Not surprisingly, the back end of the Tigers bullpen has struggled so far this season.

Detroit's relievers are fifth worst in the American League, recording a combined 4.24 ERA, and the Tigers bullpen is tied for the fourth-most blown saves with three in just seven opportunities.

Luckily for Detroit, the two worst bullpen offenders, Dotel and Brayan Villarreal, are both gone for now.

So where do the Tigers look for help?

They look to Valverde, who before his season debut on Wednesday had pitched all of three professional innings in 2013 for Single-A Lakeland.

In Valverde's small body of work, he gave up a run on one hit with four strikeouts and two walks.

"One scout said it's the best he's ever seen him throw the ball," Leyland said about Valverde to MLive.com's Chris Iott on Tuesday night, "as far as velocity and coming out of his hand."

While that small sample is good, keep in mind the level of talent at the Single-A level.

Mostly teenagers, the batters Valverde faced are nothing compared to the talent he'll go against with the Tigers.

"He's throwing the ball very well," Dombrowski said to MLive.com on Tuesday. "He's thrown it consistently well for us. 

If Dombrowski and company are so enthused with Valverde, why were they so quick to write him off and basically name their closer in November.

They wanted nothing to do with him.

But alas, he's back.

One of Leyland's downfalls is his blind loyalty to veterans. He's shown it before with washed-up players like Brandon Inge and Ryan Raburn and now with Don Kelly and Valverde.

He's an old-school manager who believes in second and third chances, and for some reason, Leyland has a soft spot for these guys.

But it won't work for very long and could very well come back to bite the Tigers in the end.

Sure, Valverde earned a one-two-three inning in his season debut. But after two warning-track fly outs, sporting a bleach-blonde beard (halfway done), I'm not so convinced Valverde is the answer.

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