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Valverde has helped, but Tigers still 'looking hard' for bullpen help

By Danny Knobler | Baseball Insider

In seven innings since returning to the Tigers, Jose Valverde has allowed just one hit.

Problem solved?

Not necessarily. The Tigers remain concerned enough about their late-inning relief that they're still "looking hard" for help on the trade market, according to a source who speaks regularly with Tigers management.

The bullpen has remained a constant issue for the Tigers, even though it has yet to cost them many games and hasn't kept them from spending the last two weeks in first place in the American League Central. The Tigers made another bullpen move Thursday, demoting middle reliever Al Alburquerque a day after he had trouble throwing strikes in a 7-5 loss to the Astros.

It's not clear yet whether the Tigers are focused on any one target, and it's not even clear how many true difference-making relievers will be available on the trade market this summer. The Tigers searched the market in spring training, before determining that they didn't like what was available then.

Most teams that are definitely out of contention don't have quality bullpen arms to deal, although the Marlins (Steve Cishek) could be an exception. The Mariners also have bullpen depth, although they may not be willing to trade anyone who would profile as a closer.

The Tigers originally hoped that rookie Bruce Rondon would prove ready to close, but Rondon had a rough spring and opened the season in the minor leagues. Rondon hasn't allowed a run in 13 2/3 innings for Triple-A Toledo, but he didn't do well in three games with the Tigers and was quickly returned to the minor leagues.

Valverde, who the Tigers initially allowed to walk away as a free agent, returned to the team on a minor-league make-good deal in April. He joined the Tigers late in the month, and converted his first three save opportunities before a blown save last weekend against the Indians.

The Indians won two of the three games in Detroit, but still came away believing that the Tigers are the favorites to win the American League Central.

"You know what, they're a great team," Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis said. "Arguably, they have the best hitter in the game, and the best pitcher in the game."

They don't have the best bullpen. It hasn't badly hurt them yet, but the fear remains that eventually it will.

And it's no real surprise that they're going to keep looking to fix it.

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