DETROIT — Jose Valverde returned to Detroit with a save and Victor Martinez drove two runs Wednesday night to help the Tigers beat the Kansas City Royals 7-5.
Max Scherzer (2-0) got the win, allowing five runs in five innings, with three Tigers relievers finishing the game. Valverde, called up earlier in the day, returned to the Tigers with a perfect ninth inning. Valverde lost the closing role during the postseason and wasn't offered a contract, but signed a minor league deal earlier this month and returned to Detroit after a short minor league stint.
Wade Davis (2-1) gave up seven runs — but only three earned — in 3 2/3 innings. Davis allowed eight hits and four walks while only getting 11 outs.
Valverde showed up 15 pounds lighter than last year.
"I'm excited to be back here," he said. "It's exciting to be back with this team and be back with Jim Leyland. I'm back in Detroit with all my friends. I had good location last season — I don't think that was a problem. I'm throwing 97 [mph] right now. Everyone knows what happened last year, but I think I was just tired. That was it."
The Tigers took the lead on Omar Infante's RBI single in the second, but Kansas City responded with four runs in the third. Salvador Perez and Chris Getz started the inning with singles, and Alex Gordon tied the game with a double. Alcides Escobar and Billy Butler made it 3-1 with RBI singles, giving the Royals five straight hits, and Eric Hosmer drove in the fourth run with a long sacrifice fly.
The Tigers added two more in their half of the third on Martinez's RBI double and Jhonny Peralta's run-scoring single.
Detroit took control in the fourth when Infante scored on a Mike Moustakas error and Miguel Cabrera followed with a tie-breaking sacrifice fly. Martinez added an RBI single, chasing Davis, but Luis Mendoza walked the next two batters to force in a seventh run.
The Tigers officially purchased the contract of reliever Valverde before the game, and designated Duane Below for assignment. He gets $2 million in base salary. Because he missed the first 3½ weeks of the season, the listed salary on the contract is $2,301,887. Valverde can earn up to $3 million in performance bonuses if he finishes 50 games. He will be paid $500,000 apiece for 25, 30, 35, 40, 45 and 50 games finished.
Bruce Rondon lost the job during in spring training, closer-by-committee didn't work and Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski decided that Valverde wasn't a bad option after all. Detroit signed him to a minor-league deal, but only needed a couple extended spring training games and three innings in High A to see he was ready.
"I'm surprised at how quickly this has gone," Dombrowski said. "We were expecting to have him pitch in Lakeland and then in [Triple-A] Toledo, but he's thrown the ball so well that we decided to pull the trigger right now. He's throwing 95 consistently, he's hitting 97, and his splitter is back. He looks like the pitcher we had two years ago than the one we had last season."