The Tigers asked Jose Valverde to finish a 10-6 game against the White Sox on Thursday, but he was forced to leave with two outs due to lower back tightness.
Valverde retired the first two batters he faced before giving up a single to Paul Konerko and a double to A.J. Pierzynski. He left mid-at-bat while Alex Rios was up.
“His lower back tightened up, and we had to get him out of there,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said after the game.
Valverde, who was a perfect 49-for-49 saving games in 2011, hasn’t shown last year’s form at any point this season. He entered the day with a 4.60 ERA and a 13/11 K/BB ratio in 15 2/3 innings. He had also blown two of his nine save chances.
If Valverde has to miss additional time, either Octavio Dotel or Joaquin Benoit would close in his place. Dotel got the save today despite giving up a two-run single after Valverde left.
The Rays started Sergio Romo on back-to-back days and if that sounds weird to you, you’re not alone. Romo, of course, was the star closer for the Giants for a while, helping them win the World Series in 2012 and ’14. He’s been a full-time reliever dating back to 2006, when he was at Single-A.
In an effort to prevent lefty Ryan Yarbrough from facing the righty-heavy top of the Angels’ lineup (Zack Cozart, Mike Trout, Justin Upton), Romo started Saturday’s game, pitching the first inning before giving way to Yarbrough in the second. Romo struck out the side, in fact. The Rays went on to win 5-3.
The Rays did it again on Sunday afternoon, starting Romo. This time, he got four outs before giving way to Matt Andriese. Romo walked two without giving up a hit while striking out three. The Angels managed to win 5-2 however.
Despite Sunday’s win, Cozart wasn’t a happy camper with the way the Rays used Romo. Via Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic, Cozart said, “It was weird … It’s bad for baseball, in my opinion … It’s spring training. That’s the best way to explain it.”
It’s difficult to see merit in Cozart’s argument. It’s not like the Rays were making excessive amounts of pitching changes; they used five on Saturday and four on Sunday. The games lasted three hours and three hours, 15 minutes, respectively. The average game time is exactly three hours so far this season. I’m having trouble wondering how else Cozart might mean the strategy is bad for baseball.
It seems like the real issue is that Cozart is afraid of the sport changing around him. The Rays, like most small market teams, have to find their edges in slight ways. The Rays aren’t doing this blindly; the strategy makes sense based on their opponents’ starting lineup. The idea of valuing on-base percentage was scoffed at. Shifting was scoffed at and now every team employs them to some degree. Who knows if starting a reliever for the first three or four outs will become a trend, but it’s shortsighted to write it off at first glance.