DETROIT — Jose Valverde wasn't supposed to come back.
After his postseason meltdowns against Oakland and the Yankees, the Detroit Tigers didn't even offer him a contract at the end of last season. Flame-throwing prospect Bruce Rondon looked set to be the new closer, even if he had never pitched an inning in the major leagues.
It didn't quite work out that way.
And now Valverde is back on the team.
And he went right to work Wednesday night, getting the final three outs for a save in the Tigers' 7-5 victory over Kansas City.
He gets $2 million in base salary. Because he missed the first 3½ weeks of the season, the listed salary on the contract is $2,301,887. Valverde can earn up to $3 million in performance bonuses if he finishes 50 games. He will be paid $500,000 apiece for 25, 30, 35, 40, 45 and 50 games finished.
Rondon lost the job during in spring training, closer-by-committee didn't work and Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski decided that Valverde wasn't a bad option after all. Detroit signed him to a minor-league deal, but only needed a couple extended spring training games and three innings in High A to decide that "The Great Potato" was ready to close.
"I'm surprised at how quickly this has gone," Dombrowski said. "We were expecting to have him pitch in Lakeland and then in (Triple-A) Toledo, but he's thrown the ball so well that we decided to pull the trigger right now. He's throwing 95 consistently, he's hitting 97, and his splitter is back. He looks like the pitcher we had two years ago than the one we had last season."
Tigers manager Jim Leyland said that Valverde will move right back into the closer's role, and he showed up on Wednesday 15 pounds lighter, sporting a two-toned beard and having ditched his trademark glasses.
"I'm excited to be back here," he said. "It's exciting to be back with this team and be back with Jim Leyland. I'm back in Detroit with all my friends."
He said that he's throwing harder, but thinks last year's problems were more postseason fatigue — he had pitched 151 innings over two seasons.
"I had good location last season — I don't think that was a problem," he said. "I'm throwing 97 right now. Everyone knows what happened last year, but I think I was just tired. That was it."