April 7th, 2011

Thursday: Tigers at Orioles

UPDATE: Luke Scott took batting practice Thursday and returned to the Orioles lineup, batting fifth. Suffice to say, that’ll be an adjustment for the Tigers.

Ramon Santiago gets the start at shortstop instead of second. Jim Leyland gives Magglio Ordonez the night off ahead of Opening Day on Friday. Ryan Raburn starts in left field for the first time this series. Jhonny Peralta gets a regular day off, as does Brandon Inge in favor of Don Kelly at third.

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Will Rhymes, 2B
  3. Brennan Boesch, RF
  4. Miguel Cabrera, 1B
  5. Victor Martinez, DH
  6. Don Kelly, 3B
  7. Ryan Raburn, LF
  8. Alex Avila, C
  9. Ramon Santiago, SS

P: Brad Penny

ORIOLES

  1. Brian Roberts, 2B
  2. Nick Markakis, RF
  3. Derrek Lee, 1B
  4. Vladimir Guerrero, DH
  5. Luke Scott, LF
  6. Adam Jones, CF
  7. Mark Reynolds, 3B
  8. Matt Wieters, C
  9. J.J. Hardy, SS

P: Chris Tillman

Perry to DL, Weinhardt recalled from Toledo

The Tigers’ first DL move of the regular season wasn’t anything expected. Detroit placed Ryan Perry on the 15-day DL on Thursday, retroactive to Tuesday, with an infected eye. Robbie Weinhardt, one of the last cuts of Spring Training, has been recalled from Triple-A Toledo to take his place.

Weinhardt was already in Toledo for the Mud Hens season opener. He’ll be in Baltimore for tonight’s series finale against the Orioles.

What that means for the Tigers’ seventh-inning relief options might take a little longer to sort out. Manager Jim Leyland had Phil Coke available for the first four games, but he’s now back in starter mode ahead of his turn in the rotation Saturday against the Royals.

Weinhardt could be an option, as could left-handers Daniel Schlereth and Brad Thomas. As Leyland said a couple days ago, somebody needs to step up. The only difference now is that Perry isn’t an option for a couple weeks.

What to expect in Thursday’s lineup

Brennan Boesch earned his fourth straight start Wednesday, and there’s a chance he’ll be in the lineup again for Thursday’s series finale. That seemed more likely before Wednesday’s game than after.

Before the game, manager Jim Leyland talked about using Victor Martinez as catcher Thursday and giving Alex Avila a day off ahead of Friday’s home opener. Then Avila went out and had a three-hit, five-RBI game that included a mammoth two-run homer, an equally impressive two-run double, and the kind of confidence boost he arguably needed.

“If I don’t catch [Avila] tomorrow,” Leyland said, “I’m sending a bad message. It would still be all right to go that way, really, because we’re going to catch him tomorrow night and then the home opener is a day game, which he’s going to catch. But after tonight, I’ve got to play him.”

Ryan Raburn will play for sure, Leyland said, because he hasn’t started the first couple games of the series. Ramon Santiago will get the start at second. Leyland said he isn’t sure whether he’ll start Magglio Ordonez for the night game before their day game in Detroit.

Verlander finds his mix

Justin Verlander talked in spring training about wanting to be able to throw any pitch in any count — not just the fastball,  but the offspeed stuff. His success Wednesday had a lot to do with being able to have two different offspeed pitches work as his go-to pitch.

Justin Verlander (AP)When he got into trouble in the fourth inning, it was the curveball, which consistently got swings and misses. By the later innings, he had shifted to the changeup.

“He just had a real good mix of pitches,” catcher Alex Avila said, “being able to keep them off-balance with the fastball, the changeup — he had a real good changeup today. His curveball really came [alive] during those middle innings when we needed the strikeouts. And he did a really good job mixing them up.”

Verlander used the curveball early on and found good break on it. But it really came alive during the fourth inning, once Derrek Lee — who battled Verlander in a 12-pitch at-bat in the opening inning — had jumped a first-pitch fastball for a two-run homer that broke up Verlander’s no-hit and shutout bids in one swing.

An infield single from Vladimir Guerrero put the potential tying run on base. Verlander left him there with back-to-back strikeouts of Matt Wieters and Adam Jones. Both struck out on three pitches. Both swung and missed badly at the curveball for strike three.

By that point, Verlander’s curve was starting inside to right-handed hitters before breaking down and across to fall on the outside corner. For a young hitter hoping it was left over the plate, there was little hope, only a lot of deception.

“The middle innings there, some of the swings I was getting on it, I felt like it was coming out looking like a fastball and had a lot of depth, getting a couple swings like Wieters and then Jones,” Verlander said. “That inning in particular, I had a really good one.

“It had good depth on it today. Hopefully I can maintain that feel. I talked about last year, not finding my curveball until the last month and a half or so. I felt like right out of the gate in the spring, I had a pretty good feel for it. So if it stays right there, I feel like it’ll be a pretty good pitch for me all year.”

If there was a turning point when Verlander and Avila went to the changeup as the offspeed pitch of choice, it might have been Brian Roberts’ walk in the sixth inning. He laid off of it, got on base, stole second and produced a run to keep the O’s within a few tallies.

“After I threw three [curveballs] in a row to Roberts, I kind of lost the feel for it a little bit,” Verlander said, “and I was able to go to the changeup a little bit more, get some guys out with that.”

By his last couple innings, Verlander looked almost like a closer, switching from fastball to changeup with little pattern.

“With him, all his pitches are above average,” Avila said. “So when he’s feeling good with one, that’s the one you go to. And then later on in the game, then the hitters, they adjust. This is a good lineup. They’re going to adjust, so we have to adjust with them. And his changeup, a couple times he threw it, and it looked really good, and we able to keep going back to it.”

Orioles manager Buck Showalter spoke to the difficulty of adjusting to Verlander, or at least finding a rhythm.

“Four-pitch mix and not a whole lot of tendencies in the sequencing,” Showalter said. “Understands what he’s doing out there.”

The fastball tonight was almost an afterthought. He could go to it, but he didn’t absolutely need it to get an out. For Verlander this early in the season, that’s not in his history. He threw more curveballs and offspeed pitches in 2008 in part because he didn’t have the same velocity on his fastball. He got the power fastball back the next year and kept it up last season, but there were nights when he couldn’t get much else consistently on the corners.

Verlander has one win in each April since 2007, and he hadn’t one his first or second start in a season since 2006. He has his token April win over on the 6th, and he should have at least four more starts to try to get more. If he’s pitching like this, it’ll be interesting.

Meanwhile, Verlander still has never lost against the Orioles.

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