Tigers lean toward Benoit atop closer committee

Tigers lean toward Benoit atop closer committee

DETROIT -- The Tigers are continuing with their bullpen-by-committee approach as they roll through the first weekend of the regular season. They might be getting close, though, to finding a committee chairman.

Manager Jim Leyland doesn't want to call Joaquin Benoit his closer, because he still reserves the right to play out the final innings by matchup. Still, he's definitely suggesting a leaning.

"We will use anybody, but the ideal situation probably -- as we sit right now -- would try to get to Benoit to the ninth inning," Leyland said. "I'm not saying that Benoit's the closer. What I'm saying is, we figure the lefty-righty combination of him being effective against both guys, if rested and available, we would lean that way probably more often."

Benoit has handled the eighth inning twice so far this season, then both times came back out to take the first batter of the ninth inning before Phil Coke entered to face a left-handed hitter. Considering the lefty-leaning Yankees lineup, that could happen again this weekend.

Yet out of the three veteran relievers in Detroit's bullpen -- Benoit, Coke and Octavio Dotel -- Benoit is the one with fairly even splits against hitters from both sides. Left-handed hitters batted .237 against him last year, compared with a .217 average by right-handed hitters. That split was more pronounced the previous season, but nearly even during Benoit's dominant year as a Rays setup man in 2010.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.