April 11th, 2009

Zumaya starts off rehab stint with one inning

Joel Zumaya’s Minor League rehab stint began Saturday night with a two-run inning at Class A Lakeland against the Tampa Yankees.

Zumaya began the season on the disabled list with a sore shoulder after suffering a setback in early March from his shoulder recovery. He walked the first two batters he faced Saturday before a double-steal set up one run on a fielding error from third baseman Shawn Roof. Another run came home on a single from Yankees prospect Brandon Laird, younger brother of Tigers catcher Gerald Laird.

From there, Zumaya regrouped to retire the next three batters in order. Damon Sublett popped out to short. Austin Romine grounded into a fielder’s choice. Then, after a wild pitch advanced the runners, Zumaya got a called third strike on Wady Rufino to end the inning.

It marked Zumaya’s second rough outing this week, having done so in an extended Spring Training game on a windy afternoon in Lakeland. While the statistics weren’t good again Saturday, the important part for the Tigers from this stint is whether Zumaya’s arm feels fine the next day. If he can continue to do that while maintaining a good velocity, he’ll continue to progress, eventually going to Double-A Erie or Triple-A Toledo to face more advanced hitters before the Tigers decide whether to bring him to Detroit.

What to make of Verlander

The day after Justin Verlander struggled on Opening Day, manager Jim Leyland talked about him needing to pitch at less than maximum effort.

“He’s probably better off if he pitches at 92-93 [mph], maybe 94, than
trying to pitch at 96,” Leyland said Tuesday, “because it’s max effort, and I
think his ball moves good. In those [Spring Training] games at Atlanta,
he wasn’t throwing that hard until he needed it. … With the way he
pitches, the assortment he’s got, he doesn’t have to pitch [at] max
effort, in my opinion.”

On Saturday, Verlander’s velocity were actually higher than on Opening Day, including several 98 mph pitches in his fifth and final inning. His pitch count was high even before errors from Brandon Inge and Adam Everett extended his inning by three batters and eight pitches. He walked four Rangers in his five innings, including back-to-back batters after retiring his first two hitters in the second inning, extending it to a 21-pitch inning.

From that standpoint, it didn’t look like much change at all. However, Leyland considered it progress because the effort level was lower.

“It was pretty effortless today,” Verlander said. “I feel like some of the adjustments I’ve been making are really starting to show. Ever since I lowered my arm angle just a little bit, I feel a click, you could say. I kind of got back to what I feel like is my old slot. Why I got out of it, we talked about that before, but who cares, as long as I get it back.”

One of the reasons Leyland talked about max effort was the challenge of going through an entire outing throwing that hard. Verlander felt comfortable enough, he said, that he could pitch at that level an entire game.

“Today maybe 10 pitches were max effort,” Verlander said. “I noticed a couple of them, just good, clean mechanics, not trying to overthrow, just trying to make a quality pitch, and I looked back and saw 96-97. That’s what I worked on getting back to.”

One big difference today was that his fastball was tempting enough to send Rangers hitters swinging and missing. They never seemed to adjust to the high fastball, not even by the time Fernando Rodney entered in the ninth and struck out the side in order.

Does it mean anything going forward? We’ll see. Leyland liked what he saw.

“It just doesn’t happen overnight,” Leyland said. “He’s getting better all the time. He’s going to be fine. I think he’s going to have a big year for us, and he was very, very good today.”

Interesting test for Verlander today

This will be the first game for Justin Verlander since manager Jim Leyland’s talk about pitching more often at 92-93 mph than 96 and up. So what will we see out of Detroit’s young ace?

Leyland is hoping not an overhauled pitcher, but one pitching a little more under control.

“We’re not trying to turn him into a 92-93 mph pitcher,” Leyland cautioned Saturday morning. “We’re not trying to make him the same type of pitcher as Zach Miner, Nate Robertson, Kenny Rogers.”

What they’re trying to do is get him to vary his speeds on the fastball more often, and throw more pitches at less than maximum effort, with the idea of getting him better command and getting him to maintain his stamina deeper into the game.

It’ll be interesting to see how that translates against the Rangers. Armando Galarraga’s performance showed there’s a value in mixing pitches against Texas hitters and getting their timing a little bit off. Verlander isn’t really that type of pitcher, but he can certainly mix his pitches well if he has the breaking ball working.

TIGERS

  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

P: Justin Verlander

RANGERS

  1. Ian Kinsler, 2B
  2. Michael Young, 3B
  3. Josh Hamilton, CF
  4. Hank Blalock, DH
  5. Nelson Cruz, RF
  6. David Murphy, LF
  7. Chris Davis, 1B
  8. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C
  9. Elvis Andrus, SS

P: Matt Harrison

The Twitter page is still up and going, for those who asked. It’s at http://twitter.com/beckjason. The updates aren’t going to be as frequent as they were in spring training, admittedly, but I’m trying to keep them going.

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