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Published: Tuesday, 3/5/2013

Tigers win but Leyland still searching for closer

ASSOCIATED PRESS

LAKELAND, Fla. — Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland has plenty of hitting at his disposal and a top-notch starting rotation. His bullpen, though, could be a problem.

"I am concerned," Leyland said. "I am not promoting anyone to closer just yet. We don't have a closer right now."

Before the Tigers' 8-5 win over the Houston Astros on Monday, Leyland emphasized that he is uncomfortable with not having a true closer that he can count on.

On Monday, potential Tigers closers Brayan Villarreal and Al Albuquerque each struck out the side in their only inning in relief of Rick Porcello, who struck out six in four innings.

Jose Valverde was not brought back after he had 35 saves last year but was rocked in the postseason, pitching four times before losing his job.

"Valverde has never been discussed," Leyland said. "I'm shocked and broken-hearted that he doesn't have a job, but we knew we weren't bringing him back."

That left the Tigers without a proven closer. Much of the speculation this spring training has been that 22-year-old right-hander Bruce Rondon would step in to the role. Rondon moved from Class-A to Triple-A last year, but he's been hit hard this spring.

Leyland said Rondon was never anointed the new closer and that there were several candidates for the job. It is too early to count Rondon out of the mix, though, or for that matter, anyone else.

"Rondon is still a candidate," Leyland said. "He's just throwing it hard and they are hitting it pretty hard."

Leyland emphasized that he is concerned about not having a true closer by opening day. He said he'd rather not go with a closer-by-committee plan, but all options are open.

"Is it a concern? Sure it is," Leyland said. "But we didn't have a closer two months ago either. It's just too early to say. At some point this spring we are going to have to make a decision. Any of them will pitch well enough or they won't. With Rondon, even if his outings had been good so far I wouldn't have appointed him our closer yet."

Leyland said he has a Plan B but isn't willing to discuss it right now, but he wants a closer rather than a committee.

"No question it is 100 percent better to have one closer," Leyland said. "If you don't have a closer you are open game. I just know I would be a lot more confident if I had a closer right now."

Rondon had 27 saves last season during his rise through the Tigers organization. The returning Detroit pitchers combined for only five saves last season, led by Joaquin Benoit with two.

Leyland reported that RHP Max Scherzer felt fine on Monday, one day after making his first start of the spring. Scherzer had shoulder discomfort at the end of 2012..

Villarreal's family OKafter kidnapping attempt

The Detroit Tigers say reliever Brayan Villarreal is not expected to leave spring training after his family escaped unharmed from a kidnapping attempt in Venezuela on Friday night.

Villarreal has remained with the team. Manager Jim Leyland did not want to comment further about the matter, saying Sunday: "The less said, the better."

Villarreal, 25, went 3-5 with a 2.63 ERA last year in 50 appearances.

Security back home has been a concern in recent years for Venezuelan players and their families because of a rising wave of kidnappings.



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