Jim Leyland Didn’t Have To Use Joaquin Benoit Wednesday Night

Jun 14, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Joaquin Benoit (53) delivers a pitch in the eighth inning against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. The Tigers won 4-0. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Jim Leyland was reportedly upset last night that he “had” to use Joaquin Benoit to finish out the game even though it was a relative blowout.

“Obviously, he didn’t throw many pitches. But I’ve got to be careful. That’s one thing we’ve got to stop doing. We’ve got to start getting through that inning without having to use him all the time. We just have to do that, because if we don’t we’re not going to have a closer before it’s over with, because he’s going to be worn out. You can’t do that.”

Leyland didn’t know whether he’d make Benoit available for Thursdays game or not at the time, but today he’s saying that he’ll hold the closer out of action.

I get that he’s unhappy that Putkonen and Coke couldn’t hold the five run lead in the eighth – or at least I understand that he’s seen the bullpen implode too many times to let them completely blow it – but to say that he “had” to use Benoit is false.

Even after the home run and the base hit, the leverage index for the situation was quite low – only about 0.60. He wasn’t yet in the fire with his team. He could have let either Putkonen or Coke ride it out a big longer without immediately putting the club at risk for the loss. Or he could have managed the bullpen differently from the start.

Bruce Rondon was the first reliever out of the pen to pitch the seventh inning with a 6-0 lead. That’s fine – he’s not yet proven himself to be a reliable late-and-close guy – but this also could have been an excellent spot for Putkonen or Coke. When the leverage of the situation is low, you try to get by with your worst pitchers, but like I said, getting Rondon into the game was probably good for his development anyway.

The real issue I take is with his useage of Drew Smyly in the eighth inning. If Leyland didn’t want to use Benoit if he could avoid it and wanted to use Smyly – he hadn’t pitched in three days – then why not make him (i.e. Smyly) the defacto ninth innning man after seeing the team race out to a big lead? He could have used Putkonen and/or Coke in the eighth with the knowledge that Smyly could clean things up with an inning-plus if need be.

That more than half of the bullpen can’t be counted on to regularly record three outs is a problem, but Leyland painted himself into a corner on Wednesday night by saving the unreliable portion of the pen of last, leaving himself with only Benoit to escape the potential nightmare.

Topics: Detroit Tigers, Joaquin Benoit

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