Valverde back on mound, pitches in scrimmage

Valverde back on mound, pitches in scrimmage

Valverde back on mound, pitches in scrimmage
DETROIT -- Jose Valverde spit out water left, right, then in front. He took a skip-step, slapping his cap on his knee, then started his trek from the bullpen to the mound.

In the playoffs, those antics usually garner a roar of cheers at home, or a thunderous round of boos on the road. On Sunday, they drew nothing. The Comerica Park stands were empty, aside from a handful of team officials and a scattering of fans peeking in from the other side of the outfield concourse.

Also, it was the first inning.

For Valverde, this was his return to game action for the first time since his four-run ninth inning in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series, eight days earlier. For other Tigers relievers, this was their first game appearance in nearly that long. For the rest of the players, it was their first game since they clinched their spot in the World Series on Thursday night by sweeping the Yankees.

World Series

It was called a scrimmage that included players from their fall instructional league, but it had a simulated-game feel. Valverde's inning ended with two outs when he reached his pitch count, having allowed a run on two singles and a walk. He struck out Austin Jackson, who did not swing at any of his pitches, and retired Delmon Young.

The catchers, including Alex Avila, called balls and strikes on their own with no umpires around. Don Kelly played first base for one side, then would leave his glove on the field so that Danny Worth could use it when he played first base for the other side.

Avila homered into the Tigers' bullpen off prospect Drew VerHagen, then did a U-turn around first base and headed back to the dugout.

The seven-inning affair wasn't about keeping score, but keeping guys fresh. The bats looked a little rusty, which was kind of the point of having the game in the first place. Valverde was wild, but he settled in. Joaquin Benoit, who also hadn't pitched in eight days, also delivered an inning. Octavio Dotel pitched an inning, then fielded ground balls from infield coach Rafael Belliard while the game stopped.

Instructional league pitchers filled some of the other innings, but so did Luis Marte and Darin Downs, two Detroit relievers who had been throwing in instructional ball to stay fresh in case an injury in Detroit required a roster move.

It felt a little like Spring Training, save for the weather, but the intent was similar. It wasn't as intensive as an actual game, but it was much better than simple batting practice.

"I like that we're doing this," outfielder Quintin Berry said. "This is huge. I think this is a very smart thing to do, get out here and get work in, not just sit around here and wait."

When someone asked manager Jim Leyland if he would've rather had only one day off before the World Series, he laughed.

"Let me tell you something, buddy," Leyland said. "When you sweep the New York Yankees, I don't give a care if you wait three weeks to get to the World Series. I'm not that good to say, 'Hey, fellas, don't win it today. Let's hold on two more days, then we'll win it.'"