By: Tom Millikan
Let's face it. The Tigers have a problem. They don't have a closer.
In case you were under a rock, Tigers 'closer' Jose Valverde channeled his inner-October last Friday night giving up two 9th inning home runs to blow a save. The Tigers went on to lose two of the three games in Baltimore. Valverde is 100 percent responsible for the Tigers losing that series. Everything else in that series is baseball. Closers don't blow a two-run lead in the 9th when the starter hands them the ball after retiring 16 straight.
The Tigers have not had a closer since October 13, 2012 turned October 14, 2012. Valverde kept us all up after midnight because he blew a 4-0 lead in the bottom of the 9th of Game 1 of the ALCS vs. the Yankees. Although the Tigers went on to win the game and the series, Valverde never closed another game for the Tigers in the playoffs. The Tigers did not re-sign Valverde in the offseason. He was done. Gone. Never to play here again. Oh wait…
As the offseason went on the Tigers were telling the public that new closer would be the inexperienced Bruce Rondon. I was telling anybody at the time that there is a lot of blind faith trusting a rookie closer. I thought the Tigers should look at all possible candidates including starter Rick Porcello. I brought up Porcello as a possible closer candidate in January and was laughed at by some 97.1 personalities.
As March wore on, it became clear the Tigers did not have a closer in Rondon. He made the big league roster anyway. Rondon's debut was on April 1. I'm not fooling you, he gave up two runs in 1/3 of an inning. Rondon has appeared in only two other games, blowing his only save opportunity on April 25. He is now back in Toledo where he belongs working on his craft.
The Tigers made the right decision bailing on Rondon quickly. They made the right decision bailing on Jose Valverde last October. Why did they change their mind on Valverde? Desperation? Yes!
The Tigers are nearly a third of the way through the season and they still don't have a closer. That is a slap in the face to a fan base that is 'World Series or bust.' Are the Tigers 'World Series or bust'? They should be. Their window is closing. They need a closer.
Tomorrow, the Tigers should name Rick Porcello as their closer. Porcello is a ground ball pitcher who is starting to strike out more batters. Those are two great attributes for a closer. He is a former first round pick that has never become a top notch starter.
Move Porcello to closer. Make Drew Smyly the 5th starter. If Smyly doesn't work out, trade for a 5th starter before the trade deadline in July.
It's time for the Tigers to be bold. Porcello has the stuff and the makeup of a closer. He could make a career out of it. He may not want to do it, but he should be asked. Will he ever be a stud starting pitcher? I don't think so. Could he be a great closer? Yes. And he could make more money closing long term.
I know this seems like a crazy idea, but it should happen, and it can work. Dennis Eckersley did it and how'd that turn out? Very few know Mariano Rivera started 10 games as a rookie, before becoming the best closer in MLB history. Dave Righetti once pitched a no-hitter as a starter with the Yankees before going on to save 252 games in New York and San Francisco.
Do the right thing Tigers! The answer is right under your nose. Make Rick Porcello your closer.
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