SAN FRANCISCO – Jose Valverde started the postseason with a scoreless inning and a save against Oakland. Since then, his ERA is 48.60.
No more explosive fastball. Instead, his ERA seems to be rising exponentially.
Valverde was hit hard by the San Francisco Giants in his return to the mound Wednesday night, allowing two runs while getting only one out during the Detroit Tigers' 8-3 loss in Game 1 of the World Series.
"He wasn't terrible. He just wasn't good," Detroit manager Jim Leyland said.
After allowing a pair of two-run homers in the ninth inning against the Yankees in the AL championship series opener, Valverde was put on ice by the Tigers. He worked on his motion during his 10-day layoff, trying to speed his legs.
With the Tigers trailing 6-1, Valverde relieved to start the seventh. He struck out Tim Lincecum, then allowed Angel Pagan's double to right followed by a two-hop RBI single from Marco Scutaro on a 94 mph pitch. The seeing-eye hit went between third baseman Miguel Cabrera and shortstop Jhonny Peralta.
"Sometimes when you throw bad pitches, you do the job," Valverde said. "When you throw good pitches, you can't do the job."
Pablo Sandoval singled to center, completing a 4-for-4 night with three homers and four RBIs, and Buster Posey sliced a 92 mph pitch into right field for another run-scoring single. That finished Valverde after 18 pitches.
"This is what happens when you play the best team in the National League," Valverde said, speaking calmly at his locker minutes after the final out. "Everything was working good for me. I had my sinker, my split, cutter. Sandoval, Pagan, Scutaro, Posey, they hit my best pitches."
Valverde had 49 saves in 49 chances with a 2.24 ERA last year but converted only 35 of 40 opportunities with a 3.78 ERA this season. Eligible for free agency after the World Series, the 34-year-old right-hander might have thrown his last pitch for Detroit.
"For whatever reason it just doesn't seem to be coming out quite right, although he did have a few 93s (mph)," Leyland said. "You know, it's a little bit puzzling, to be honest with you. It looks like it's just not quite exploding."
Tigers catcher Alex Avila had another explanation.
"A lot of pitches, if I'm set up away it comes back middle," he said. "The thing is, when he's throwing 95, 96 (mph) you can get away with that sometimes. Now that he's throwing 90, 91, you're going to get hit more times than not."
In four postseason appearances this year, Valverde has been slammed for nine runs and 11 hits in 2 2-3 innings, a 30.38 ERA. When Leyland needed a closer in Games 2 and 3 against the Yankees, he turned to lefty Phil Coke.
Valverde wouldn't discuss the possibility he might not be used again this year.
"You never know," he said. "Tomorrow is a new day."