Jose Valverde

The Tigers can’t turn back to Jose Valverde now

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The A’s had four hits in eight innings Wednesday and then doubled their total in the ninth. Pouncing all over Jose Valverde with their season down to its last three outs, the A’s scored three runs to beat the Tigers.

In so doing, the A’s left Jim Leyland with a major dilemma: who does he call on if he has a lead in the ninth in Thursday’s Game 5?

Valverde hasn’t had his good splitter at any point in the season. He was rather successful anyway, converting 35 of 40 save chances. However, his strikeout rate took a big dive and was easily the lowest of his career. As a result, his batting average against, while still quite good at .229, was the highest mark of his career.

That Valverde remained as decent as he was in 2012 can largely be attributed to the deception in his delivery. His unique motion and release makes him pretty tough to pick up. And if he doesn’t like the matchup, he’s not afraid to work around a tough lefty to get to a righty he thinks he can handle.

But repetition isn’t Valverde’s friend at this point. The A’s saw him in September and hit him. They’ve now seen him twice in a week. If they get him yet again in Game 5, it’d be no surprise to see things again get ugly in a hurry.

Maybe Justin Verlander will make it moot. No starter in the postseason is more capable of getting 27 outs all by himself. If Verlander does need to leave after seven or eight with a lead, then the A’s may need to try mixing and matching righties Al Alburquerque and Octavio Dotel and lefty Phil Coke in the ninth. Alburquerque is the Tigers’ best reliever right now, but he’s never faced the kind of pressure he would Thursday. He also hasn’t really been tested on back-to-back days since returning from an elbow injury.

As for Joaquin Benoit, who would have been the fallback a week ago, he’s allowed runs in four of his last six appearances, and tonight may well have made it five if Brandon Moss hadn’t gotten himself out with two men on in the eighth. He could always pitch the eighth again, but he scarcely seems like a better bet than Valverde at the moment.

If Leyland does go back to Valverde in the ninth inning Thursday, it’d be sheer stubbornness. There’s no place left for that with the season on the line.

Report: Dodgers could pursue three-year deal with Rich Hill

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 18:  Rich Hill #44 of the Los Angeles Dodgers pitches in the first inning against the Chicago Cubs in game three of the National League Championship Series at Dodger Stadium on October 18, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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Free agent left-hander Rich Hill is rumored to be entertaining a three-year, $40+ million offer from the Dodgers, reports Peter Gammons. The Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo corroborated the report, adding that Hill could receive somewhere between $46 and $48 million from his former team.

Hill, 36, pitched to a 2.12 ERA and 3.91 FIP in back-to-back stints with the Athletics and Dodgers in 2016. While a chronic case of blisters on his pitching hand limited the frequency of his starts, he still figures to be one of the most productive and noteworthy starting pitchers on the market this winter.

The Orioles, Yankees, Red Sox, Rangers and Astros have all been mentioned as potential suitors for the left-hander’s services, though Orioles’ GM Dan Duquette said the club has yet to make a play for Hill and ESPN’s Jim Bowden pointed out that the Red Sox are less involved in trade talks than other interested parties.

Yankees in, Red Sox out on Edwin Encarnacion

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 19:  Edwin Encarnacion #10 of the Toronto Blue Jays looks on against the Cleveland Indians during game five of the American League Championship Series at Rogers Centre on October 19, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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In light of the Astros’ deal for veteran designated hitter Carlos Beltran on Saturday, the Yankees are thought to be intensifying their pursuit of free agent Edwin Encarnacion, reports Jon Morosi of FOX Sports. The Yankees never made an official offer to Beltran, but remain in need of a DH/first baseman to give them a little more power outside of a Tyler AustinGreg Bird combo in 2017.

The Red Sox, on the other hand, are reportedly withdrawing their interest when it comes to the Encarnacion sweepstakes. According to FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman, they will look for a hitter to beef up their lineup without taking a “big plunge” on the 34-year-old.

Encarnacion enjoyed another All-Star run with the Blue Jays in 2016, hitting at a .263/.357/.529 clip with 42 homers and a league-leading 127 RBI in 702 PA. He’s expected to command a significant contract in free agency, and agent Paul Kinzer said that a potential deal is unlikely to be finalized before the Winter Meetings as Encarnacion is not close to agreeing to any offer. Interested teams include the Blue Jays and the Astros, though Beltran’s signing appears to have effectively taken Houston out of the running for the slugger.