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.

Max Scherzer (hamstring) leaves start vs. Mets after just 1 inning

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WASHINGTON — Three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer left his start for the Nationals against the New York Mets after just 27 pitches Wednesday night due to a hamstring injury.

He was replaced in the top of the second by Erick Fedde.

Scherzer was not as sharp as usual at the outset Wednesday, going 2-0 counts against each of New York’s initial two batters, walking one and giving up a single to the other.

The Mets eventually went ahead in the first on Dominic Smith‘s sacrifice fly.

Scherzer entered the game with an 0-1 record and 2.84 ERA this season.