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JoaquinBenoitJoaquin Benoit has been named the nominal closer as struggling closer Jose Valverde recovers from his lower back strain (listed as day-to-day), but the bad-news of the injury may mean good-news when it comes to ninth inning consistency.

Benoit had a shaky start to the season – he allowed 10 walks in his first 10 appearances (the month of April) – but he’s been rock solid since the calendar turned to May – just two walks and one run allowed to go with nine strikeouts in six appearances. But even while he was ‘struggling’ in April, he was striking out loads of batters (15.4 K/9), ended the month with a very good 2.43 FIP, and only blew one opportunity while recording six holds.

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For the year now, Benoit has a 2.87 ERA in 17 appearances (15.2 innings pitched) with 25 strikeouts, 10 holds (a 91% ‘hold percentage’) and a miniscule 1.88 FIP.

But the success of Benoit extends beyond just a very good May and a good season to date. He’s been a dominating late-inning reliever for the last three years (since missing 2009 due to shoulder surgery, actually). This span covers 137 innings in which Benoit has recorded a 2.23 ERA (2.66 FIP), a 10.7 K/9 rate, a 2.2 BB/9 rate, and has converted 88% (67 of 76) of his hold and save opportunities. Those numbers are better across the board than those put up by Valverde (with the exception of save+hold percentage, where Valverde bests him by 6%).

It really is unfortunate for the Tigers that Valverde got hurt, they’ll need a healthy and effective Potato to achieve the goals we all laid out for this team, but I can’t help but be a little bit relieved that Benoit is slated for upcoming save opportunities. I have no doubt that the Tigers will immediately restore Valverde to his position when he’s cleared for action, but Benoit probably gives them the best chance of closing the door on a ninth inning lead at this point.

Matt Snyder is the editor of The Tigers Den. He can be reached on Twitter @snyder_matthew.