April 2nd, 2013

Game 1 wrapup: Prince quietly has big opener

Between Justin Verlander’s five dominant innings, the debate over the decision to remove him, and the unveiling of the bullpen by committee in action, Prince Fielder’s Opening Day will get overlooked. Considering how many layers of clothing Fielder was wearing to keep warm, he was hard to recognize.

His manager, however, didn’t overlook him, and what he meant to their season opening win.

“Quietly, he had a heck of a game,” Leyland said.

For somebody who came to town with as much fanfare and attention as he received a year ago, it’s a rare feat for him to do anything quietly. Yet he might have reached that point as a Tiger where not everything he does gets spotlighted.

Fielder pulled off his first .300 season last year thanks to a good share of hits to left field, but his first base hit of 2013 was a rare piece opposite-field hitting even for him. Fighting off a Vance Worley pitch inside, he slapped a double just inside the third-base bag that allowed Miguel Cabrera to score the second run of the opening inning.

In the field, he came up with the defensive gem of the afternoon at a time when the Tigers desperately needed it, scooping Jhonny Peralta’s throw out of the dirt to retire pinch-hitter Wilkin Ramirez and strand the bases loaded in the sixth inning.

“Probably the play of the game,” Leyland said.

Fielder has made plenty of those types of scoops before, but rarely in a bigger situation. He also had to stretch for that one.

It might well have been a benefit of the offseason workout program Leyland hinted at for the first time.

“He’s in very good shape,” Leyland said. “I mean, he has worked very hard this winter. He’s got a regimen that he does with somebody, but he’s in tremendous shape. He was bouncing around real good today.”

As it preserving a one-run lead wasn’t enough, Fielder made it two runs in the eighth when he singled leading off the eighth and scored on a Josh Roenicke wild pitch.

“That extra add-on run was huge,” Leyland said. “That takes you off the lines the next couple innings. You’re not playing for no doubles. That was a huge add-on run.”

Play of the game: It looked at first like a classic hit-and-run play in the opening inning, but Leyland said Torii Hunter was simply reacting and hitting behind the runner once he saw Austin Jackson take off following his leadoff single. The resulting single looked like a slow-motion replay, the ball rolling through the right side as second baseman Brian Dozier tried futilely to reverse course and run it down.

“It was not a hit-and-run,” Leyland said. “I’d like to take credit for it, but it wasn’t. Torii just saw him going and shot it over there on his own. It was a heck of a play by Torii Hunter. I’d like to say I was smart and put it on, but I didn’t. He just saw the pitch and saw Jackson going, saw the hole and just fisted it over there. That’s a credit to him.”

Biggest out: Though Leyland cited Fielder’s dig as the play of the game, Al Alburquerque’s back-to-back strikeouts in the seventh arguably stopped the Twins’ momentum in its tracks after a second consecutive bases-loaded jam. The last out, in particular, was huge, a full-count slider that Alburquerque buried knowing that he could walk in the tying run but strongly believing that Chris Parmelee would swing at it thinking it was a strike. More on that in the game story on the site.

Strategy: Leyland met with pitching Jeff Jones at some point before Monday’s game and put a pitch count on Justin Verlander. It wasn’t just a general range, but a limit of 100 pitches, strong enough that Leyland decided not to send Verlander out for the sixth despite five shutout innings.

“It was his first start of the year,” Leyland said. “He had 91 or 92 pitches. If you let him start the next inning, he’s really not a quick out guy so much. A hundred was going to be the max, so I just decided that was enough. Are you going to send him out for one hitter? I didn’t think that made sense with the left-hander coming up.

“You have to remember one thing: We just came from basically 80-degree weather to 30-some degree weather. First start, 90-some pitches, that was enough.”

What worked for Verlander: “I was very pleased with my curveball. It was kind of average to subpar all spring. Just playing catch the other day, I was something and I was able to carry it over to the game today and it was really good. I got some big outs off of it.”

Line of the day: Miguel Cabrera went 0-for-5 with a run scored, an RBI and two strikeouts. It marked the first time since 2006, two years before he joined the Tigers, that he did not reach base safely on Opening Day, yet he still drove in a run by beating out a double play and scored another on the next hitter.

Stat of the day: 0 — Number of outs recorded by Twins outfielders behind Vance Worley during his six innings. Worley recorded 13 ground-ball outs, two pop-ups to short and three strikeouts.

Print it (best quote): “This weather, I was talking with some the trainers, and they were like, ‘Guys don’t run as fast in this weather. Your muscles just don’t work. It’s not as efficient. It’s like trying to stretch out a cold rubber band. It doesn’t stretch like it does when it’s warm.” — Verlander on the effect of the cold weather (can’t believe I forgot the attribution the first time, sorry)