Benoit proving invaluable out of bullpen

Benoit proving invaluable out of bullpen

DETROIT -- Tigers manager Jim Leyland looked down the line of his available relievers after Friday's 10-inning loss. Half of the six relievers -- Luis Marte, Thad Weber and Luke Putkonen -- entered the day with fewer than 15 Major League innings. Phil Coke and Duane Below were available, but both are lefties who pitched Friday night.

The last name might have been the biggest.

"Most likely, [Joaquin] Benoit [will be available] for one inning, hopefully to close," Leyland said before Saturday's 4-1 win against the Rockies.

And that's what Benoit did. With a four-run lead, the reliever entered in the ninth inning and gave up an unearned run on one hit. However, he rebounded to strike out two batters and seal the win for the Tigers.

After throwing two innings in Friday's game, Benoit's name wasn't expected to be on the list of available pitchers. Having him available was arguably a godsend for Leyland, who talks about Benoit in a way that almost sounds like he doesn't want to jinx him.

"I'll probably shoot myself in the foot," Leyland said, "but I think he's the best setup man in the league, that very rarely gets any credit. That's just my opinion."

Of course, the Tigers added Benoit before last season to be that kind of reliever, signing him to a three-year, $16.5 million contract. But after a rough start and strong finish last year as part of a solid late-inning relief corps, he's arguably the biggest piece holding the Tigers' bullpen together this season.

Benoit finished Saturday's win against Colorado an inning behind Coke for the most games pitched on the team with 31. His 43 strikeouts rank second among all American League relievers. His last 20 appearances have seen him throw 20 2/3 innings of three-run, 11-hit ball with four walks and 26 strikeouts.

Benoit has pitched in 10 of Detroit's 12 victories since May 19, including six in a row before Justin Verlander and Jose Valverde teamed up for Thursday's win over the Cubs.

Leyland said Benoit will get the day off Sunday as the Tigers look to win their third straight series for the first time in 2012.