02/14/2013 3:10 PM ET
Leyland surprised by Valverde's free agency
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
LAKELAND, Fla. -- The Tigers made it known early in the offseason that they would not re-sign closer Jose Valverde. They just figured someone else would.
Instead, Spring Training has started all over baseball with Valverde still looking for work. His former manager is as surprised as anybody.
"I'm shocked, totally shocked and broken-hearted," Leyland said. "This guy was absolutely fantastic, absolutely fantastic for us. He's one of the best teammates I ever managed. He did as good of a job for three years in a row. I can't believe that in a two-week period -- granted, he wasn't as good maybe last year -- but in a two-week period, it seemed like everything that this guy did got forgotten about, and I just can't even imagine."
Leyland thought highly enough of Valverde that he acted as a job reference for him to teams that asked for his opinion.
"I talked to a couple people and recommended him very highly," Leyland said.
The Tigers' closer situation, though, might work against him. If Leyland thinks that highly of Valverde, the next question to come up would be why the Tigers have shown no interest in bringing him back.
Leyland tread carefully on that one.
"Well, I think the Tigers felt that it was just time," Leyland said. "It was pretty rough on him the last period there in Detroit. It got a little rough on the kid, and I understood the magnitude of what was going on and everything. But if you remember right, I supported him through thick and thin through all of that. But I had to do what I had do. I wasn't very comfortable doing it, but I did what I had to do."
Spring Training unlikely to resolve closer role
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Four years ago, Tigers manager Jim Leyland left Spring Training saying Fernando Rodney would be his closer on Opening Day, but not guaranteeing anything beyond that. In fact, he suggested that other pitchers could end up closing games. But Rodney ended up with 37 saves in a breakout season.
The way Leyland is talking now, don't be surprised if his message is the same once the Tigers wrap up this year's camp -- even if right-hander Bruce Rondon wins the first chance at closing.
It is not Rondon's job to lose, Leyland cautioned. He's not going to put that kind of pressure on the 22-year-old. Yet it's hard to guarantee it's a job for one pitcher to definitively win, at least publicly.
"Hopefully I have a lead Opening Day, and you'll see somebody pitching," Leyland said. "I doubt very much that there'll be anybody anointed out of Spring Training as the closer. Is it a possibility? Yes."
When asked about left-hander Phil Coke's struggles against right-handed hitters and what he needed to do to reverse the trend, Leyland initially took it as a question about Coke potentially closing. But after saying Coke would not be the closer, Leyland added that Coke could get chances based on matchups.
"I think he'll probably close some games," Leyland said. "I'm not saying he won't close games, but I would not start anointing anybody as our closer just yet, because we don't have one just yet."
Coke, of course, picked up two saves in the American League Championship Series in Jose Valverde's stead. He didn't get a chance to save a game in the World Series, but his situation and the matchups with Giants hitters made him a likely candidate if the Tigers had a save situation.
"I think it's really a front-burner thing that's on the back burner," Leyland said.
Infante officially joins Venezuela for Classic
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Omar Infante's participation in the World Baseball Classic is now official, three weeks after it was expected he would join Venezuela's roster. Infante and manager Jim Leyland both confirmed he has been added to the squad.
"It's exciting," Infante said. "This team is unbelievable."
Infante said he hasn't been told what his role will be, but he expects to serve as a utility player -- a role filled with skill for the Atlanta Braves before spending the past two seasons as the everyday second baseman in Miami and Detroit.
Infante is the fourth Tigers player on a World Baseball Classic roster. Miguel Cabrera and Anibal Sanchez will be his teammates with Venezuela, while Octavio Dotel is listed on the provisional roster for the Dominican Republic.
"We actually came out of it pretty good," Leyland said.
Tigers hire Hodge to throw left-handed BP
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Remember when Delmon Young mentioned the lack of a left-handed batting practice pitcher when asked about the Tigers' struggles against lefties during the World Series? That spot has been filled.
The Tigers hired Ed Hodge, who served as batting practice coach for the Houston Astros the past couple years.
The Tigers have no shortage of right-handers to throw batting practice, from coaches to bullpen catcher Scott Pickens to former Major League catcher Joe Siddall at home games. However, they haven't had a lefty in several years.
It sounds like a trivial matter, but to players, it makes a difference. Prince Fielder compared it to trying to take a math exam without doing the homework leading up to it.
"It definitely helps having a lefty and a right-handed pitcher, because you're going to see both," Fielder said. "Especially for me, being a lefty, from the seventh inning on, that might be all I see. I definitely need it, personally, just to make sure I'm doing everything I can to prepare and help my team in those situations."
Healthy Price ready for busy spring schedule
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Little more than a year after undergoing surgery for cancer and less than a year after having to pull back from a couple road trips while dealing with illness, Jim Price says he's feeling great.
That's good for him, because the Tigers radio analyst has a busy Spring Training ahead of him.
The Tigers will broadcast 35 of their 36 Spring Training games on the radio, after broadcasting mainly weekend games the past several years, and Price plans on doing all 35.
Price, who was part of the broadcast team when Detroit had most of its spring games on the air years ago, said he has heard positive feedback since the expanded broadcast schedule was announced last week.
"This is excitement I don't think I've ever seen before," Price said. "They just want to hear Tiger baseball. It's incredible."
Healthwise, Price said he has lost some weight since last season, but not the dramatic drop that accompanied his cancer treatments a year ago.