Mailbag: How long will Jones close?

Mailbag: How much longer will Jones close?

Do you think any changes will be made regarding the closer? Todd Jones lacks that one great pitch that a closer must possess. He has four mediocre pitches, and at times he gets slammed. His lack of strikeouts really hurts him in the closing role, while both Fernando Rodney and Joel Zumaya both have great stuff. So do you think manager Jim Leyland will change the setup or closer's roles?
-- Doug G., Saginaw, Mich.

Why are the Detroit Tigers wasting their time with Jones at this point in the season? Also, why don't they start putting or keeping Zumaya in for the ninth or final inning? .
-- Erik M., Livonia, Mich.

Is there anyone else in the league that we could acquire to close out games and give Rodney a break? I personally think Zumaya should become a closer and Jones can move on to another team, but apparently that won't happen. Please tell me we can make a move or spend some money to get someone to close out games.
-- Steve J., Canton

The Jones topic comprised about half my mailbox the last week or so, but none of that is going to happen right now. Jim Leyland has said he's going to stick with Jones for the immediate future and give him a chance to close games, but the manager left the door open that he could make a change later.

Look, there's no question Jones has been struggling, and everyone admits it. But there's a handful of points to remember here for the time being. First, Jones is the only one with a track record of closing games in his career, and that's something Leyland and others value.

Second, Zumaya isn't ready for the closer's role, not by his manager's estimation and not by most anyone else's, either. He's a 21-year-old rookie who lives and dies by his fastball, and he's still learning to use all his pitches in a late-inning role. And before anyone points out how Bobby Jenks closed games for the White Sox last year, keep in mind Zumaya wasn't a reliever at any level until this year. Maybe he'll be ready to close next year, but not now.

Third, even if the Tigers were to move Jones out of the closer's role, they would still need him for big outs in the seventh or eighth inning. He's not going to just vanish. So you'd still be left with the question of getting Jones pitching well, only now in a different spot.

Fourth, if Leyland did make a closing change, it would probably be to Rodney, who filled the role down the stretch last year and makes the best case to fit the role. The Tigers wouldn't be in the market to pay for another reliever to close games. And if you're not a fan of Jones, or of Ugueth Urbina and Troy Percival before him, why would you want the Tigers to go back on the market for a reliever anyway?

Lastly, I think there's a problem with using Jones in longer situations, especially coming off continued hamstring problems. He's had to work multiple innings in extra-inning games, and he was rushed into a bad situation in the series opener at Toronto with the idea of getting five outs. The stats show that Jones is more effective working just the ninth inning in a save situation than he is entering early or working a second inning. He doesn't have the stuff to do that anymore.

I have noticed a considerable dropoff in Justin Verlander's velocity in his past three starts. Is that something he is consciously doing? Am I wrong, or is there a problem brewing with his health?
-- Brian B., Macomb

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I think it's a combination of both. Verlander had been dealing with tightness in the back of his pitching shoulder for a short time until a couple starts ago. He's still topping out around 99 mph -- he's just not doing it consistently. He's also had some command problems recently, especially keeping the ball down, and one of the first things pitchers do in that situation is take a little velocity off to try to spot the ball better. I wouldn't worry about it just yet.

Has anyone considered the possibility of having Verlander and Zumaya switch roles at the All-Star break in order to keep Verlander's innings down this year?
-- David V., Spring Lake

Physically, it's a novel idea. But the transition from starter to reliever and vice-versa, especially in use of pitches and difference in rest, pretty much rules it out. Plus, there's still stress in a bullpen role if a pitcher's going twice in three days. Leyland does not want Zumaya starting this season, under any circumstance.

I noticed that Ivan Rodriguez's contract has only this year and next year left with him on the Tigers. Do you think Pudge will stay with the Tigers even longer, possibly to the end of his baseball career? Is he happy here, since we are winning?
-- Bobby A., Flint, Mich.

Rodriguez told Booth Newspapers last week he'd like to stick around and maybe end his career here, but this far out from the end of a contract, that's usually more a matter of a player saying the right things. Rodriguez and his agent, Scott Boras, will have to judge the market and see what he's worth, and the Tigers will have to make the tough decision of how far they're willing to go to keep him around. The big question when that comes about will be how much longer they believe he'll be able to catch. He'll be 36 years old when his contract would be up, and while I don't think there's much debate he can catch beyond that, the question is how much longer.

The Tigers lost a big run in the first inning of the opening game in the White Sox series, when Magglio Ordonez crushed a Freddy Garcia pitch to deep right-center field for a ground-rule double. Curtis Granderson was off and running on the pitch and would have seemingly scored easily from first base, but was sent back to third by the home plate umpire. In turn, he was stranded on third and we ended up losing by one run. Could you explain why he was not able to score?
-- Trevor D., Allen Park

That goes back to the rule on runners advancing two bases on a ground-rule double, and it's consistent whether or not the baseunner is on the move when the ball is hit. It's a good point and an interesting discussion, but that's the rule.

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