Joaquin Benoit demoted from setup role 16 appearances after signing $16 million deal

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Joaquin Benoit was nearly unhittable for the Rays last season, throwing 60 innings with a 1.34 ERA, .147 opponents’ batting average, and 75/11 K/BB ratio.

That earned him a three-year, $16.5 million deal from the Tigers as a free agent, but after allowing 15 runs in his first 16 appearances Benoit has been demoted from eighth-inning setup man to middle reliever.

Benoit’s long history of injuries is what made the contract such a big risk for the Tigers, but pitching coach Rick Knapp told Jason Beck of MLB.com that the 33-year-old right-hander’s problems are mental rather than physical:

Is it mechanics? I don’t think it’s mechanics. I think it’s just confidence. “Throw the ball down” isn’t really something you can think about. You have to leverage it that way. You have to know that you’re going to throw the ball down and not have to think about it. When you have to think about it, then you have a better chance [of making] a mistake. And that’s kind of about where he’s at right now. He’s trying to execute pitches maybe too hard, and he’s not.

Prior to Benoit’s breakout season with the Rays he missed all of 2009 with an injury and posted a 4.09 ERA in 207 innings from 2006-2008, but he was so amazing last year that simply turning back into a pumpkin seemed unlikely without some arm problems.