DETROIT -- Until Saturday, it appeared the Tigers could breathe easy again in the ninth inning, as closer Jose Valverde had seemingly put his early season struggles behind him.
Valverde entered the ninth inning of Friday's 4-2 win against the Royals and pitched a perfect 1-2-3 inning to notch his 16th save of the 2012 campaign. He needed only 11 pitches to force a flyout, groundout and a game-ending strikeout.
Valverde had strung together six appearances and six scoreless innings since his return from a right wrist sprain on June 19. However, he reverted to his early-season self in Saturday's 8-7 win.
The 34-year-old closer allowed three runs on two hits and two walks, as he nearly surrendered the Tigers' four-run lead in the ninth.
"Sometimes, when it's not a save situation, his concentration's not where it's supposed to be," manager Jim Leyland said after his team escaped with a second straight win in the series. "I don't know if that was the case or not, but he walked the first on guy on four pitches. That's not usually a good sign. You're not comfortable at that point. You know you're in for a tough inning."
Valverde's ERA in non-save situations rose from 4.20 to 5.63. In 2011, when Valverde went a perfect 49-for-49 in saves opportunities, his ERA in non-save situations actually sat at 5.79 -- as opposed to 0.55 in save chances.
For the season, the closer entered Saturday with a 3.44 ERA, but it jumped up to 4.11 after the rough outing. Valverde is 3-2 on the year and his 16 saves ranked eighth in the America League entering Saturday's action. He has three blown saves on the year, the last on June 2.