Valverde Impressive in Lakeland Debut

Papa Grande was impressive in his first outing

LAKELAND, FL -- Friday evening, former Detroit Tigers' closer Jose Valverde toed the slab for the Lakeland Flying Tigers. Signed to a minor-league contract on April 4th, the right-hander they call Papa Grande tossed a scoreless inning of relief, dialing his fastball up to the mid-90's. What else did Valverde show?

Working predominately with his fastball, Jose Valverde threw seven of his 12-pitches for strikes. He allowed one walk and zero hits, striking out one.

After a significant drop in velocity late last season, Valverde lit up the radar gun, tormenting Dunedin Blue Jays' batters. Valverde's fastball had solid movement, sitting between 93 mph and 95 mph, touching 96 mph four times on the stadium gun (typically considered a tad fast).

"[I'm] doing everything the same. [I'm] working hard. Everything's working mechanically. My body feels good," Valverde responded when asked about the return in his velocity.

During his outing, Valverde quickly fell behind Dunedin's first batter, eventually issuing a seven-pitch walk. Quickly recovering, Valverde immediately fired a 96 mph fastball low and outside inducing a 6-4-3 double play to clear the bases.

Dunedin's third and final batter of the inning was treated to a steady diet of Valverde's filthy splitters. A called strike and a foul ball quickly put Valverde ahead in the count. On the fourth pitch of the at-bat, Valverde got Kevin Patterson swinging on an 85 mph splitter, ending his evening.

Noticeably slimmer, a healthier Valverde boasted about his off-season work on his waistline, crediting running and eating less late at night as the main ingredients to the ‘new and improved' Papa Grande.

"I lost 40 pounds," Valverde stated.

"I feel great. Feels like I'm 21 years old. I want to keep them off too. I want to lose 30 more pounds. That's what I want to do. If you want to be in baseball you have to be in shape."

As for his future in Jim Leyland's bullpen, Valverde offered a "the ball's in their court response."

"I'm not following [Tigers] too much because I've been busy in extended spring, Valverde stated. "I'm pitching again for Lakeland tomorrow for one inning, after that, it's a decision for Detroit."

James Chipman is the Lakeland Correspondent for TigsTown. Be sure to follow him on twitter @JAYRC_TigsTown.

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