Jim Leyland leaning toward Joaquin Benoit for save chances

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With Jose Valverde showing exactly why he failed to attract much interest over the winter, Tigers manager Jim Leyland is seemingly phasing him out of the closer role.

According to Jason Beck and Bobby Nightengale of MLB.com, Leyland said today that while he isn’t ready to make an official announcement on his closer situation, he’s prepared to go with Joaquin Benoit in the short-term.

“I’m not naming anybody closer,” Leyland said Thursday. “I’m just saying that if Benoit’s available right now, I would probably try to close with him, if he’s fresh and available.”

Valverde allowed just one run over his first 12 appearances this season, but he has been touched up for 11 runs on 15 hits (including five home runs) over his last eight appearances. This includes four runs in a non-save situation yesterday against the Orioles. Benoit notched a save during Sunday’s game, which was an indication that a change could be in the offing.

As for Valverde, Leyland said he’ll use him when he sees fit and “will try to do that intelligently.” That could mean never.

Interestingly, Valverde’s contract includes a $500,000 bonus if he reaches 25 games finished, with an additional $500,000 bonus for every five games finished after that. He’s currently sitting on 18 games finished for the year. If the Tigers truly think he’s cooked as a late-game option, it wouldn’t be surprising if they cut bait soon.

Colby Rasmus signs a minor league deal with the Orioles

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Mark Feinsand of MLB.com reports that Colby Rasmus has agreed to a minor league deal with the Baltimore Orioles.

Rasmus, 31, played only 37 games with the Rays last year. The reason: the previous offseason he underwent surgery to repair his left hip labrum and his core muscle, and the hip continued to bother him throughout spring training. He began the season on the disabled list and made his debut on May 2, hitting .281/.318/.579 in 129 plate appearances before going back on the DL June 23. He’d never return, “stepping away” from the game in the words of the club, which placed him on the restricted list for the remainder of the season.