CLEVELAND -- A save in baseball is generally defined by a three-run lead in the ninth inning, or a situation where a closer enters with the potential tying run on base, at the plate or on deck. For Jose Valverde, however, a protecting a four-run lead has frequently been part of the job description this year.
Now that the Tigers are heading into the final days of a playoff race, manager Jim Leyland wants to be consistent about it. With four-run leads, he plans to go to setup man Joaquin Benoit in the eighth inning and Valverde in the ninth when they're available.
Benoit was set to be rested Saturday after pitching on three of the previous four days. Valverde was available.
"You can't fool around this time of year," Leyland said. "Stuff happens fast. I mean, you're ahead, 4-0, you get the first two outs in an inning, a guy walks and a guy bloops a single, you've got some power hitter up there and all of a sudden, it's 4-3.
"I feel comfortable using those other guys [in the bullpen]. It's just that [Benoit] is the setup guy and [Valverde] is the closer. If I don't feel it's totally a comfortable situation, then I'll use them."
Valverde has 28 appearances in non-save situations this year, compared with 34 opportunities. In the non-save situations, he has allowed 17 runs (12 earned) on 26 hits in 26 innings for a 4.15 ERA. In save situations, he's 2-1 with a 3.18 ERA, allowing 25 hits over 34 innings.
Some of those non-save appearances this year have come when Leyland has had Valverde warming up with a three-run lead before the Tigers added on runs in the eighth inning.
Leyland focused on pennant race, not '13 contract
CLEVELAND -- Of all the buzz about Jim Leyland's future as Tigers manager, one voice that hasn't been heard is Leyland's. That's by design.
Leyland hasn't gone in depth on many questions about the team in general for next year, but with the impetus on winning now, not many such questions have come up. When the query about his own status for next year came up Saturday, Leyland shrugged it off.
"There's no sense in asking," Leyland said, "because I won't talk about it. I don't want to talk about me. We're in a pennant race. I don't want to be a distraction."
Leyland is finishing out a one-year contract he signed last August. At the time, Leyland said he was comfortable going year-to-year on his contract, much like his good friend Tony La Russa did during his final years in St. Louis. But Leyland was saying that with his status decided before the stretch run.
As the Tigers head into the final 2 1/2 weeks of the season, it's becoming increasingly apparent that Leyland's status probably won't be addressed until season's end. It has been widely assumed that how the Tigers finish will play a major factor in Leyland's future with the team.
"I don't think about that," Leyland said. "I'm thinking about beating the Cleveland Indians. That [contract] stuff will take care of itself."
Prince surprises Tigers with 'sneaky athleticism'
CLEVELAND -- Tigers infield coach Rafael Belliard didn't think Prince Fielder had a chance at snaring Jason Donald's fifth-inning ball down the first-base line Friday. He figured, like most everybody else, that the Indians had a two-run hit.
Instead, Fielder ended up with the top highlight in baseball for the night.
The fact that Fielder made up so much ground at the last second displayed athleticism that defies his body type.
"I think it's a sneaky athleticism," Justin Verlander said. "Anybody that follows the Tigers would be able to tell you that, especially with Prince. I don't think anybody here realized how good of an athlete he was until you get to see him. He's fast for a big guy and [has] quick reflexes."
Said manager Jim Leyland: "He's very athletic, runs good, [is a] good baserunner, gets a good read on the bases. He's done a very good job."
Boesch hitting better away from home
CLEVELAND -- Friday's two-hit game continued a trend for Brennan Boesch, who has statistically been a better hitter away from Comerica Park. There's little to explain it, but the trend is tough to explain away.
Boesch's .267 average on the road is 38 points higher than his average at home. Moreover, 16 of his 58 road hits have been doubles, including four out of his seven hits at Progressive Field. Boesch's slugging percentage is higher in Detroit (.386 to .382) because of his home runs -- nine out of his 12 total on the year.
Boesch had gone 6-for-17 on the road current trip entering Saturday's matchup with Cleveland's Justin Masterson.