PITTSBURGH -- Before coming to Detroit in 2006, Jim Leyland started his managing career two decades before in Pittsburgh. Leyland led the Bucs for 11 years, and still lives in western Pennsylvania.Despite his ties to the city and the organization, Leyland said this weekend's series at PNC Park is no different from any other. "It's another opponent," Leyland said. "It makes it nice, because you get to see a lot of old friends, and you get to sleep in your own bed for a couple of days and visit with your family, but the competition is the same as it is anywhere else." Speaking of the competition, Leyland is impressed with what the Pirates have accomplished of late. Going into Friday's series opener, Pittsburgh had won four of its last five games and finds itself two games behind Cincinnati in the National League Central. Although Detroit took two of three from Pittsburgh last month at home, Leyland isn't putting much stock in those results. "[The Pirates] are very legitimate. Their pitching is really good," he said. "I like their team. People will think I'm just saying this because I'm from Pittsburgh, but I'm not. "I think Pittsburgh will compete. I don't know if they'll win or not, but they'll compete. They're pretty good."
No trip to disabled list for Valverde just yet
PITTSBURGH -- While warming up for an appearance on Tuesday, closer Jose Valverde sprained his right wrist.Detroit hasn't placed the right-hander on the 15-day disabled list, but he probably won't see any action on Friday in the series opener in Pittsburgh. "He's better today," manager Jim Leyland said before Friday's game. "And exactly what that means, I don't know, but he's better today -- better look on his face today, pretty upbeat, so I think he's feeling much better." Leyland hasn't appointed a closer to fill in for Valverde. If he has to, though, right-hander Joaquin Benoit would get the nod. Benoit has made 33 appearances this season, with a 1.93 ERA and 44 strikeouts. "I don't know that he can take the pounding that Valverde takes, as far as coming back, you know, so many times," Leyland said. "Valverde's pretty resilient that way. Benoit is, too, but maybe not quite as much. I'd be a little more reserved about him." Leyland has plenty of respect for pitchers who have proven they can close. The last three outs of a ballgame, he said, are by far the hardest to lock down. "There's no doubt about that," he said. "Guys are just not the same. I see guys that throw 95 [mph]. They go to close a game, and they're throwing 90 [mph]. It's a little bit different." Valderde went 49-for-49 in save opportunities last year. He has blown three saves already in 2012, and has converted 13 of 16 opportunities.
Other Tigers who have recorded saves this season are Benoit, Phil Coke and Octavio Dotel.
Fister has been a pleasant surprise for Tigers
PITTSBURGH -- Manager Jim Leyland knew he was getting a good pitcher when Detroit acquired Doug Fister from Seattle last year at the non-waiver Trade Deadline.He just didn't know Fister -- who started against Pittsburgh on Friday -- was going to be that good. "We liked him," Leyland said. "We liked him a lot, but I didn't expect him to do what he did. I'd be lying if I said that. I don't think anybody expected that." Fister spent the final three months of the 2011 season with the Tigers. Over that time the right-hander went 8-1 with a 1.79 ERA and averaged 7.3 strikeouts per nine innings. Fister's numbers have dropped off a bit in 2012, and he's already made two visits to the 15-day disabled list. He was most recently activated on June 16, for a start against Colorado. Facing the Rockies at home, Fister allowed three hits in six innings of shutout ball, picking up his first win of the year and dropping his ERA to 2.68. Leyland sees Fister as part of his "big four" starting pitchers, the other three being Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello. "If our 'big four' gives us a chance to win on most nights," Leyland said, "we'll end up having a real good year."
Mark Emery is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.