Valverde likely to get call if AL needs save

Valverde likely to get call if AL needs save

ANAHEIM -- Jose Valverde has become a star of sorts for his save celebrations. Come Tuesday, he could get a chance to celebrate a save in the All-Star Game.

Now that American League manager Joe Girardi has named him the All-Star closer, Valverde is hoping to find some new moves to his trademark save antics.

"I have to go to the hotel now and practice something new," Valverde said jokingly Monday night after the State Farm Home Run Derby. "My manager is the manager for the Yankees right now. I have to do something nice for him."

A save and a little high step might do just fine for Girardi, who told MLB Network on Monday evening that Valverde would be his closer if needed.

If the American Leaguers hand him a lead in the ninth inning, he'll have the chance to follow in the footsteps of the great Mariano Rivera, Girardi's closer with the Yankees and author of four All-Star saves. Rivera saved last year's 4-3 AL win at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, but was scratched from this year's All-Star squad with knee and side injuries.

"The chance to close that game, to me, it would be exciting," Valverde said. "It's my second All-Star Game, and this is the first time I'm pitching, too. To play with all these guys, all these All-Stars like Derek Jeter, Alex [Rodriguez], Ichiro [Suzuki], my boy over there [Miguel] Cabrera, I think it will be exciting for me."

It would also be his first All-Star pitch. He was a National League All-Star in 2007, the year he led the Senior Circuit with 47 saves, but didn't pitch in the Midsummer Classic.

After two years with the Astros, he has one of the last free-agent relievers left, a market straggler. The Tigers signed him to a two-year contract in mid-January and have watched him return to his position as one of baseball's top closer. Now, he's an All-Star closer as well, the Tigers' first since Todd Jones in 2000.

"I think it's not only me that's so excited," Valverde said. "I think the fans for the Tigers are excited, too, right now. All my family, my Dominican guys, everybody, I think everybody's excited."

Valverde's 19 saves tied him for eighth in the American League at the All-Star break, but his other stats are what separates him from other candidates. The 32-year-old right-hander has allowed just four earned runs on 16 hits in 39 innings, good for a 0.92 ERA. He has allowed one out of five inherited runners to score.

In save situations, the stats are particularly stingy: He has allowed two earned runs on five hits in 20 1/3 innings, walking seven and striking out 20. He has converted every save situation he has encountered since taking the loss in his first save chance as a Tiger April 7 at Kansas City.

To Valverde, it's the best season of his career, even better than his back-to-back 40-save seasons in Arizona and Houston in 2007 and '08.

"You know what? This is my best year," Valverde said. "I'd pick this year No. 1, and then I'd pick '07 No. 2. I think '10 is the best."

An All-Star save Tuesday would be another reason to make it the best. After waiting all game in 2007 for a chance, he'll be eagerly anticipating a shot this time. If he gets it, he's already warning hitters he won't be serving up anything easy to hit.

"It's a big time for me," Valverde said, "and I wish for a save situation, know what I mean? I'll throw all split-fingers."

Did the All-Star closer just call his pitch?

"Oh yeah," he said. "Everybody knows. I don't want to be messing around out there with a fastball. No chance."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.