Game’s top closers haven’t spent best years with Tigers

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

The Tigers have had their share of legendary closers.

Problem is, they always seem to get them at the wrong time.

Will that be the case, too, with Francisco Rodriguez, acquired Wednesday in a shrewd trade with the Milwaukee Brewers? Or will the Tigers finally have found their rock-solid ninth-inning guy, after all these years of trying?

Time will tell, of course, though this much is certain: Rodriguez, nicknamed K-Rod long ago when he was a strikeout machine with the Los Angeles Angels, is coming off two of the best years of his career, when you consider his sub-1.000 WHIP.

Then again, Joe Nathan was considered a good find for the Tigers, too, not that long ago, and, well, we all know how that turned out.

Here’s a look at seven men in the top 20 all-time in saves who, at one time or another, were property of the Tigers.

■ Rodriguez, 386 saves (seventh all-time): He once threw hard, really hard, but now his fastball doesn’t top 90 mph. No matter, he’s got a fantastic change-up that he throws nearly 50 percent of the time, and was a pitch that last season held hitters to a batting average below .100.

■ Nathan, 377 saves (eighth all-time): Signed two years ago to a $20 million deal, Tigers fans rejoiced — until he stunk his first year, and pitched to just one batter his second, before needing Tommy John surgery. For good measure, there also was animosity with the fans along the way.

■ Troy Percival, 358 saves (10th all-time): An Angels legend, he signed a two-year, $12 million deal with the Tigers before the 2005 season. He wasn’t himself in 2005, and forearm surgery cost him 2006. So struck with guilt over his contract, he used some of it to buy a suite for the Tigers wives.

■ John Wetteland, 330 saves (14th all-time): Not many remember that he was with the Tigers, though he never threw a pitch for them. A Rule 5 selection of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1987, he was returned to L.A. in March 1988, because he wasn’t going to make the Tigers Opening Day roster. Oops.

■ Francisco Cordero, 329 saves (15th all-time): While many on this last were past their prime before getting to the Tigers, Cordero was not yet established. Signed as a 19-year-old out of the Dominican Republic, he pitched only one season for Detroit before saving all his games elsewhere.

■ Jose Mesa, 321 saves (17th all-time): He signed with the Tigers after the 2006 season, for $2.5 million. Local radio host Mike Valenti famously ripped the deal during an interview with Todd Jones, who called Valenti a “smart(bleep).” Valenti was right; Mesa was pathetic, and gone by June.

■ Jones, 319 saves (18th all-time): The one who made a lasting contribution to the Tigers, though it wasn’t often pretty — as the “Roller Coaster” wasn’t a fan of 1-2-3 innings. Nonetheless, he’s the Tigers leader with 235 saves, and came up big his second stint in Detroit, particularly 2006.