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Leyland, Tigers must find new closer in bullpen

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Leyland, Tigers must find new closer in bullpen

DETROIT (AP) Jim Leyland freely admits that at least one role on his pennant-winning team is very much up in the air.

The Detroit Tigers let free-agent closer Jose Valverde go after he struggled toward the end of last season, leaving that spot open for any number of candidates. With spring training less than three weeks away, Leyland realizes he'll have some major decisions to make with his bullpen, but the veteran manager isn't shying away from discussing it.

``I'm concerned about it, to be honest with you, but it's certainly not a panic mode,'' Leyland said. ``I think we have some people there that can do it.''

The Tigers were at Comerica Park on Saturday, where the field was coated with snow. The appearance was part of their TigerFest event, and there is plenty of interest among fans in who will take over as the closer. General manager Dave Dombrowski was taking questions when a member of the audience asked him about Brian Wilson, the talented reliever who is recovering from elbow surgery and was not offered a contract by the San Francisco Giants.

``Remember, he wants to be a closer,'' Dombrowski said. ``We're really not in that position to be able to make him that promise at this time. He's still coming back from an injury.''

Detroit hasn't added anyone who would be considered a definite candidate to close games this season, and right now the Tigers sound as though they're ready to let 22-year-old right-hander Bruce Rondon compete for the job. Rondon has never pitched in the big leagues, but he had a 1.53 ERA across three levels in the minors last year.

Leyland plans to spend some time getting to know Rondon during spring training, and he's particularly interested to see how the youngster bounces back from adversity. Rondon struck out 66 hitters in 53 innings last year, but he also walked 26.

``He's a very bright kid, and I can't wait to see what he's got in spring training,'' catcher Alex Avila said.

If Rondon doesn't win the job outright, Leyland is willing to close games by committee. When Valverde faltered toward the end of last season, left-hander Phil Coke was able to fill in during the playoffs.

Detroit has depth in relief, including Joaquin Benoit and Octavio Dotel - and even lesser-known candidates with high strikeout rates such as Al Alburquerque and Brayan Villarreal.

``I'm not afraid to mix and match. I think I can do that pretty good,'' Leyland said. ``This is a real sensitive subject. We have guys that can close a game, but I'm not sure - other than potentially Rondon - whether we have guys that can close every game.''

Detroit returns the core of a team that won the American League pennant last year, and there are a number of roles that are ``etched in stone,'' as Leyland likes to say. That includes every position except left field, as well as the top four spots in the starting rotation.

It does appear as though there could be a competition for the fifth starter's spot between Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly, but Porcello has plenty of experience and Smyly began last year in the rotation.

So the issues Leyland has to resolve are obvious - and fairly limited. That doesn't mean Detroit will cruise this year, of course. The Tigers were expected by many to win the AL Central easily in 2012, but they didn't overtake the Chicago White Sox until late in the season.

There may be moments this year when fans will again be disillusioned with Leyland's team - but it's a long season.

``It's not going to be easy,'' Leyland said. ``They're going to fire me about five times again this summer, but I don't mind second-guessing. I think that's healthy.''

NOTES: Leyland said DH Victor Martinez is ``ready to go'' after missing last season with a knee injury. But the Tigers don't want to raise expectations too much. ``He's perfectly healthy, but when you haven't seen a pitch at 98 mph for the whole year, you don't know how long it's going to take to get readjusted,'' Leyland said.

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Derrius Guice understands why Redskins fans are frustrated, but he's looking ahead

Derrius Guice understands why Redskins fans are frustrated, but he's looking ahead

Derrius Guice is a very positive person. Unfortunately, he's playing for a team right now that's shrouded in negativity.

The Redskins have played 10 games this season, and they've walked off the field as losers in nine of those contests. They've gotten rid of their head coach, and many are wondering how many other major changes will come.

And when it comes to the fans, many — if not most — are furious with the direction of the franchise. Guice is noticing that, too.

"It just sucks when I score, or someone else scores, and our team posts a picture to Instagram or Twitter and everything under it is just, 'Fire this, fire that, we suck," Guice told JP Finlay in a 1-on-1 interview on the Redskins Talk podcast. "That doesn't help anything."

The running back understands that frustration. However, he wants those who are angry to know one thing: While this current roster is obviously responsible for the 2019 issues, they aren't responsible for the two-decade-long slump that's affected the organization.

"I'm new here," Guice said. "I understand some of these fans have been here 20-30 years, but like, there's a lot of guys on this team that are new. Y'all can't bring all that negativity to us like we've been here 20 years. I don't think that's fair to us players."

That's what makes this situation so difficult for those on the field and those who watch those on the field. Fans have been on this unsatisfying ride for far too long, yet most of the players hopped on a stop or two ago. 

So people who post those hateful comments or send those angry DMs are doing so because they've seen a handful of free agency and draft classes bust, and because they've seen numerous coaches come in and fail, and they've been lied to repeatedly about how "close" the Redskins are. They aren't necessarily trying to take it out on Guice or Dwayne Haskins or Landon Collins, it just appears that way.

Guice, for one, is trying his best to improve how he handles that side of being an athlete. He's also choosing to focus on those who've stayed on his side through what's been a trying first couple of seasons in the league.

For all the negativity he encounters, he's grateful for those who remain positive like him.

"A guy that's been there two years and has only played two real games, there's a lot of fans that have still never left my side since I got drafted," Guice said. "That's something I always have to cherish."

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Report: Phillies sign another National, bring on assistant hitting coach Joe Dillion

Report: Phillies sign another National, bring on assistant hitting coach Joe Dillion

When you win a championship the way the Nationals did, other teams are going to try and capture that magic in any way they can. 

Of course, Anthony Rendon and Stephen Strasburg are at risk of leaving town and free agency, but now the Davey Martinez will have to make changes to his coaching staff as well. 

According to Jim Salisbury, the Phillies hired Washington's assistant hitting coach Joe Dillon as their new hitting coach under manager Joe Girardi. 

Working with hitting coach Kevin Long, Dillon helped the Nationals lead the national league in on-base percentage while ranking second in batting average and OPS. 

The Phillies struggled at the plate in 2019, ranking 22nd in batting average, 19th in on-base percentage and 17th in OPS. Despite acquiring Bryce Harper, Jean Segura and JT Realmuto last offseason, Philadelphia boasted an anemic offense under former hitting coach John Mallee. 

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