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.

Astros defend barring reporter from clubhouse

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As we wrote about this morning, last night the Houston Astros, at the request of Justin Verlander, barred Detroit Free Press reporter Anthony Fenech from the clubhouse during Verlander’s media availability following the Tigers-Astros game. After Verlander was done talking to the press in the scrum setting — and after a call was placed to Major League Baseball about the matter — Fenech was allowed in.

As we noted, this was done in violation of agreements to which Major League Baseball, the Houston Astros and the Baseball Writers Association of America are parties. The agreements are meant to ensure full access to BBWAA-accredited reporters as long as they have not violated the terms of their credentials.  In no case do the clubs — and certainly not the players — have the right to bar access to BBWAA-accredited reporters. Indeed, the whole point of the BBWAA is to ensure such access and to ensure that teams cannot bar them simply because they are unhappy with their coverage or what have you.

This morning Verlander tweeted, obliquely, about “unethical behavior” on the part of Fenech that led to his request to the Astros to bar him. As we noted at the time, such an allegation — however interesting it might be — is of no consequence to the admission or barring of a reporter. If Fenech has acted unethically it’s a matter between him and his employer and, potentially, between him and the BBWAA. At the very least, if Verlander has a specific concern, it would be incumbent upon him or the Astros to take the matter up with either the Free Press or the BBWAA.

In light of all of this, it’s hard to make a case for Verlander’s request and the Astros’ honoring it. A few moments ago, however, the Astros released as statement on the matter which, basically, says, “so what?”

Which is to say, the Astros have made a decades-long agreement between the BBWAA and MLB regarding reporter access optional, because a player does not like a reporter who is covering him.  Someone without the power to alter the BBWAA-MLB relationship has just done so unilaterally. And they have done so in such a way that any player, should they decide they don’t like a reporter, will now presumably rely on it as precedent. Finally, it should be noted that in issuing this statement, the Astros have given at least some tacit credence to Verlander’s thus far unsubstantiated and unspecified allegations of unethical behavior on the part of Fenech, which seems less-than-ideal at best.

It’s your move, Major League Baseball and BBWAA. Whatcha gonna do about it?