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Reliever Benoit signs three-year deal with MLB's Tigers

DETROIT (Reuters) - The Detroit Tigers beefed up their bullpen on Friday by signing Joaquin Benoit on a three-year, $16.5 million contract.

The right-handed pitcher played for the Tampa Bay Rays last season and led all American League relievers with a 1.34 ERA while holding opponents to a .147 batting average.

"Joaquin has had success pitching in critical situations late in the game and he fits that role for our club," Tigers general manager David Dombrowski said in a statement.

"We had focused on trying to find a quality bullpen arm who can pitch the eighth inning for us, and we think we've added one of the best."

Benoit, 33, was delighted with the latest chapter in his career, having missed the entire 2009 season while recovering from rotator cuff surgery.

"It's something that you gamble," said the Dominican Republic native, referring to his career being at a cross-roads after 2008.

"There was a point when I had my rehab ... that I thought it (his career) was over. It hurt too much. It's the thought process. It's the process of getting back in shape."

A veteran of nine years in the majors, Benoit played for the Texas Rangers from 2001-2008.

(Writing by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Rex Gowar)