- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 22, 2011

LAKELAND, FLA. (AP) - Jose Valverde began July 30 with a 1.81 ERA, then threw 60 pitches to get four outs in a 6-5 win over the Boston Red Sox that stopped Detroit’s four-game losing streak. From that night on, his ERA was 5.89.

Tigers manager Jim Leyland says his closer will be on a strict pitch count this year.

“He will never get to 60 pitches again, I promise,” Leyland said. “I don’t care what the situation is, I am getting him out of there.”

An AL All-Star last season, Valverde is part of what could be a deep Tigers bullpen that also appears to be a bit fragile.

Joel Zumaya pitched in only 31 games, his season ending June 29 because of a broken right elbow that sent him to the disabled list for the sixth time since 2007.

Newly signed Joaquin Benoit had a 1.34 ERA in 63 games for the Tampa Bay Rays last season, but he’s been on the disabled list six times since 2004 and missed the entire 2009 season due to shoulder surgery.

With Zumaya and Benoit as setup men, Valverde said he has no problem being a one-inning pitcher.

“Just give me the ball,” Valverde said. “I won’t ever want to come out.”

Valverde also is the Tigers’ clubhouse comedian.

“I like the guy, I really do,” Leyland said. “He’s a fun guy and he’s got one of the best personalities I have ever been around. He’s a great guy, but he won’t be getting 50 pitches in a game this year.”

Leyland is going slowly with the relievers at this point of spring training. Valverde has missed four days of workouts.

“Valverde had to be held back because of the flu, but Zumaya has been fantastic so far,” Leyland said. “We’re just holding our breath right now on them.”

NOTES: Leyland raved about rookie pitchers Jacob Turner and Andrew Oliver, both longshots to make the 25-man roster. “I’m going to watch them a lot and not get too down or too excited,” Leyland said. … Leyland said there is no clear leader in the second base competition among Scott Sizemore, Carlos Guillen, and Will Rhymes. Guillen has been healthy after his season ended Aug. 16 because of a deep bruise to his left knee, an injury sustained on a takeout slide by the Yankees’ Brett Gardner. Rhymes batted .304 after a midseason callup. Sizemore opened as the starting second baseman last year but struggled.

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