05/02/2013 8:29 PM ET
Valverde happy for return to closer's role
By Gene Duffey / Special to MLB.com
HOUSTON -- Jose Valverde is back where he belongs, at the back end of the Detroit bullpen, closing games for the Tigers and celebrating every save.
When the Tigers needed a closer a couple weeks into the season, they called on the 35-year-old Valverde, signing him to a one-year contract. He has appeared in three games for the Tigers, collecting two saves, allowing no runs and no hits.
The personality is still the same, finishing off an opponent with a fastball and a dance on the mound.
"I enjoy my game," said Valverde, flashing that perpetual smile. "You have to enjoy every good moment. When you have a bad moment, you have to throw it away. I'll always be the same."
"He enjoys what he does," manager Jim Leyland said of Valverde. "He's saved a lot of games for us. He's a good guy, has a lot of fun, a good teammate. We feel pretty blessed to have him back."
Valverde picked up 110 saves in his first three seasons with the Tigers, including a career best 49 in 2011.
But Detroit decided not to keep him after the 2012 season. Valverde pitched briefly for Class A Lakeland. When the closer by committee plan did not work out, the Tigers signed Valverde to be the man again.
"I've done my job," he said. "I had 35 saves [last year]. I have a sneaky fastball. Everything's good so far. Now I pitch 92, 94 [mph on fastball]."
Ortega hoping to stick in Tigers' bullpen
HOUSTON -- Tigers reliever Jose Ortega didn't get much sleep Monday night. Had had dozed off in the Detroit airport when his cell phone rang about 3 a.m.
He was told he was being promoted from Triple-A Toledo to the Major Leagues.
"It's 3 in the morning," said Ortega, thinking it might be a family emergency. "Somebody's calling me. I don't know why."
Ortega didn't get back to Toledo until 4:30 in the morning. He said he woke up at 8:30 a.m. Short night.
He pitched the ninth inning of Wednesday's 6-2 loss to Minnesota, striking out the Twins' Josh Willingham to help Detroit set an American League record of striking out 10 or more in six consecutive games.
"It made me happy," he said of being part of a record.
"[On Wednesday] he made an awful good impression," manager Jim Leyland said. "You don't want to judge him way too quick. Hopefully, he's made a lot of progress. He'll go down in the bullpen and we'll see how he performs."
Ortega claimed he wasn't nervous at all. "This is my second time in the Majors," he said. "I'm familiar. I worked very hard for this."
He had appeared in two games for the Tigers last season. In 10 games this year for Toledo, all in relief, Ortega picked a win and a save without giving up an earned run in 14 innings. He had 19 strikeouts and opponents hit a mere .105 against him.
Ortega added a changeup to his repertoire when the pitched Winter Ball in his native Venezuela, to go with his fastball and slider.
"This year I throw everything for a strike," he said. "I'm ready.
This time he looked ready to stay in the Major Leagues for good.
Leyland recounts lessons as a Minor League manager
HOUSTON -- Detroit's Jim Leyland recalled when he was breaking in as a manager, running the Tigers' Class A club in 1972 in Clinton, Iowa.
In the sixth inning of a game early in the season, the 27-year-old Leyland asked veteran pitching coach John Grodzicki for advice.
"I went to him and said, 'What do you think?' " remembered Leyland. "He said, 'You're the manager. You make the [blankety-blank] decision,' and walked back to the other end of the dugout.
"That was the best lesson I ever got. You're on your own. You learn what to look for down there. You learn over the years."
Clinton finished the season with a losing record, going 22-41 in the first half and 27-36 in the second half.
But Leyland said that seven players from that team went on to play in the Major Leagues. He must have been doing something right.
The next year under Leyland, Clinton went 73-51 overall, placing second in the first half of the season and winning the second half.
Gene Duffey is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.