Tigers bullpen limited for Game 5
DETROIT -- Tigers manager Jim Leyland ruled out workhorse relievers Joaquin Benoit and closer Jose Valverde for Thursday's crucial Game 5 of the American League Championship Series, a potential damaging blow to Detroit's hopes of staying alive.
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"Truthfully," Leyland said, "I want to try to get through this game today with Verlander and Coke."
Leyland wasn't smiling.
He is putting full faith in ace Justin Verlander, a 24-game winner who has proved mortal so far this postseason, to pitch deep enough into the game to hand off to Phil Coke to finish the job and return the series back to Texas.
Coke has allowed one hit in 1 2/3 innings of work in the ALCS. He retired both batters he faced in Game 4.
Verlander is just hoping he can pitch a game without it being interrupted and then shortened by rain. He pitched eight innings, throwing 120 pitches, in Game 3 of the AL Division Series against the New York Yankees, but lost a 4-2 lead before the Tigers' offense came through for the 5-4 victory.
Benoit has thrown four innings in the past three games, including two in Game 4. Valverde also pitched in the past three games, totaling 4 1/3 innings. That burden caught up to him in the top of the 11th Wednesday night, as the Rangers struck for four runs, including Nelson Cruz's three-run homer that blasted the game open.
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Rangers manager Ron Washington said he will try to not use Alexi Ogando in Game 5, but the rest of the bullpen is available if needed.
"That's not to say that if we need him to get a batter or one inning, that we won't use him," Washington said. "We'll do what we've got to do. But if we can stay away from him, we will."
The former starter and now star reliever for the Rangers has thrown 8 1/3 innings this postseason. His first run allowed came in the seventh inning of Game 4, when he gave up a solo home run to Brandon Inge. It was just the fourth homer Inge has hit all season, and his first against a right-handed pitcher.
Jeff Caplan is a reporter for ESPNDallas.com. ESPNDallas.com's Richard Durrett contributed to this report.