February 25th, 2009

What to expect from Verlander?

While we all await Nate Robertson’s two innings tomorrow against the Nationals, followed by Dontrelle Willis’ outing against the Blue Jays Friday, there’s still the case of Justin Verlander and what to expect from him. It seems to be widely agreed upon that last season was a fluke, but it’s tougher to really form an expectation on what he can do this year. Obviously, the better his performance, the better the Tigers’ chances at a rebound.

Logically, he shouldn’t have the same troubles of run support that he did at the start of last season. That takes out some of those losses last year. Personally, I don’t expect velocity to be a question again. The more important questions are how he’ll pitch in close situations and whether he can hold down his pitch count and go deeper into games. As high as hopes are for bounceback seasons from Willis, Robertson and/or Jeremy Bonderman, the front end of the Tigers rotation is still the place where they could use an innings-eater to give their bullpen an easy night every turn or two through the rotation.

As Leyland pointed out, Verlander’s stuff is good enough to do it, if he can avoid trying to make the perfect pitch. Two innings in a Spring Training game probably aren’t enough to tell how he’s progressing on that, but they’re a sign as to how his pitches are going. On Wednesday, they were in and out.

Other notes from the spring opener, in no particular order …

  • Brandon Inge didn’t need long to start showing his range at third base. He nearly retired Casey Kotchman on a roller down the line, and stopped another ball that ended up foul. He also had a throwing error a little later in the game.
  • Leyland noted that he liked the way Zach Miner looked in his two innings of work, including a good offspeed pitch. As has been written, Miner needs to keep mixing his pitches and keep hitters off-balance.
  • The numbers in the box score won’t necessarily look good on Brandon Lyon, but Leyland noted in his postgame remarks that Lyon isn’t throwing his curveball yet. He’s primarily focused on building his arm strength at this point in camp.
  • As the box score also shows, Gerald Laird does not move badly for a catcher. His stride will not remind anyone of Pudge circa 2005/2006, but it moves him along.
  • Jair Jurrjens on facing the Tigers, his original organization: “It was a little awkward. I grew up here. This was my first team and I did everything here. It was a little strange warming up in the other bullpen, but it had to happen someday, and I’m glad the first one’s done.”

What to look for Thursday against the Nationals:

  • Pitchers: Edwin Jackson, Nate Robertson, Rick Porcello, Joel Zumaya, Clay Rapada and Macay McBride
  • Regulars: Miguel Cabrera, Carlos Guillen, Magglio Ordonez, Adam Everett
  • Dmitri Young is in Nationals camp, but as a non-roster invitee.
  • Wilfredo Ledezma is also in Nationals camp. He’s scheduled to pitch in relief at some point in the game.
  • This is the ballpark where, last year, a Tigers prospect ended up being stuck in the bathroom when the door jammed so tightly that it took a stadium crew to come in and remove it. Here’s guessing the door will be closed very carefully on Thursday.

Postscript on World Baseball Classic

Now that it’s official that Justin Verlander won’t be on Team USA, that clears the Tigers to put him on a pretty regular schedule of pitching once every five days. Project that out, and he should be on track to pitch Opening Day, though manager Jim Leyland hasn’t announced anything on that front quite yet.

Rodney’s a more interesting case. He said again this morning that he ready to pitch for the club again, as he did in 2006, but he wasn’t sure what happened. So it doesn’t appear that he pulled out. It looks like the Domincan team opted for some younger relievers, including Jose Arredondo and Rafael Perez. However, Arredondo looks like the only reliever resembling a closer on that squad.

As for Rodney, look for him to get at least one outing where the Tigers stretch him for 40-45 pitches, like pitching coach Rick Knapp plans to do with Brandon Lyon. For one thing, it gets his arm stretched out. For another thing, it gives him a chance to mix in his slider.

Also had a chance to check with Carlos Guillen, who suggested there’s a chance he could end up at DH in some opening round games. It would free up a corner outfield spot for Bobby Abreu, and it would ease some wear and tear on his knees playing on the artificial surface in Toronto.

Sheff sits for opener

Manager Jim Leyland is giving Gary Sheffield a break for the opener after taking a pitch off of his elbow Tuesday in live batting practice. Sheffield said his elbow swelled up a bit but wasn’t too bad. We’ll probably see him make his Spring Training debut on Friday, when the Tigers face the Blue Jays in Dunedin. For now, Marcus Thames is the DH in Sheff’s place.

Here’s the lineup for the opener:

  1. Granderson, CF
  2. Polanco, 2B
  3. Ordonez, RF
  4. Cabrera, 1B
  5. Guillen, LF
  6. Thames, DH
  7. Laird, C
  8. Inge, 3B
  9. Everett, SS

Pitching: Verlander, Miner, Seay, Lyon, Bonine, Ni, Bloom