October 5th, 2013

Leyland: Rotation choice was Verlander or Sanchez for Game 2

It seems like a while ago now, but all the speculation about the Tigers postseason rotation — once Rick Porcello was clearly not part of it — centered around whether Max Scherzer or Justin Verlander would start Game 1. Manager Jim Leyland said today that wasn’t the question. It was Game 2.

Leyland said he watched a postgame show Friday night, with pundits talking about him sleeping better with his decision after Scherzer’s gem, and didn’t take it well.

“If the truth be known, in my mind, I thought it was a no-brainer, the first game starter,” Leyland said. “I thought the second game starter was a tough one, because you could’ve had Sanchez or Verlander. I picked Verlander simply because he’s been on this big stage out here. I thought it would be good for him. He’s shown that he can do it.”

Sanchez’s strength at home also played a part. The debate over whether Leyland made the right choice in Game 1, however, flummoxed him.

“Sleep better? I thought it was a no-brainer,” Leyland said. And now everybody’s saying, ‘Boy, he made a good choice.’ I made a good choice whether he did good or bad. I mean, I made a good choice now because he did good? It was the right choice.”

Benoit clarifies World Series comment

Just talked with Joaquin Benoit, who found out last night that his postgame comment had gone a bit viral. He says he didn’t mean it to come out that way.

In case you missed it, Benoit told reporters after the Game 1 win, “I feel like we’re on the verge of the World Series again.”

Taken by itself, it reads like a prediction, and it got some play here in the Bay Area because of that. Benoit said before batting practice today that he didn’t mean it that way. He meant to say that the win felt like a confidence boost for this team, including a relatively young bullpen.

“I guess that the message was taken the wrong way,” Benoit said. “We went to the World Series last year, and what I was trying to say that this is the feeling that I would like to have, that we can go back to the World Series. … If it was taken the wrong way, I apologize, but I don’t really mean to say that we’re going to go to the World Series. There’s a lot of baseball to be played, and hopefully we do.”

Asked if he had talked with manager Jim Leyland about it, Benoit said, “I already clarified with him, because I already heard about it. It’s really tough when you’re trying to say something and it’s taken the wrong way.”

Leyland, for his part, wasn’t happy about the hubbub, but defended the comment to an extent.

“It’s not good for you guys, but I always tell my players that you know what, in all these situations, because of the national media attention, it’s probably best to say less,” Leyland said. “The less said is probably better. Sure, I like a confident team. I don’t know that you need to go on stage and talk about it, but I like a team that’s confident and I think you show that by the way you play. I thought we responded very good to the atmosphere last night and a lot of that was dictated by the way our pitcher pitched.  But we are a confident team. I don’t expect that we are any more confident than the Oakland A’s, so I don’t like to hear any teams talk about it too much.

“I just like to watch ‘em go out and play and they usually show their energy and confidence and everything by the way they play. If guys want to talk about it, that’s fine, more power to ‘em. They’re grown men. I don’t tell anybody what to say and or not to say. I don’t give advice, but I do say there is no sense in fueling fires. We don’t need to do that. We just need to go play.”

Game 2 lineups: Don Kelly starts in left

Oakland 281

Yes, after all the speculation whether Jhonny Peralta might displace Andy Dirks in left field at some point in this Division Series, it’s Don Kelly getting the start in left for Game 2 tonight. I can’t say it’s a matchup thing, because none of these guys have faced A’s rookie Sonny Gray. Everything else in the lineup is the same.

Oakland, meanwhile, makes a swap in its lineup. Seth Smith, who has drawn six walks off of Justin Verlander in his career, is in. Daric Barton, who also has drawn his share of walks but had an uncharacteristic misplay on defense last night, is out.

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Torii Hunter, RF
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B
  4. Prince Fielder, 2B
  5. Victor Martinez, DH
  6. Alex Avila, C
  7. Omar Infante, 2B
  8. Don Kelly, LF
  9. Jose Iglesias, SS

P: Justin Verlander

ATHLETICS (career numbers off Verlander)

  1. Coco Crisp, CF (9-for-32, HR, walk, 4 K’s)
  2. Jed Lowrie, SS (2-for-8, walk, 2 K’s)
  3. Josh Donaldson, 3B (4-for-16, 2 walks, 2 K’s)
  4. Brandon Moss, 1B (2-for-13, HR, 2 walks, 6 K’s)
  5. Yoenis Cespedes, LF (4-for-12, walk, K)
  6. Seth Smith, DH (2-for-15, HR, 6 walks, 4 K’s)
  7. Josh Reddick, RF (2-for-18, walk, 8 K’s)
  8. Stephen Vogt, C (0-for-5, K)
  9. Eric Sogard, 2B (0-for-7, 2 K’s)

P: Sonny Gray

Postscript on Scherzer

About this time yesterday, I was noting five keys for Max Scherzer to have better fortunes against the A’s in Game 1 than he did in August. Because the A’s were going to stack up left-handed batters and switch-hitters against him, I emphasized the curveball. Turns out the changeup did just fine.

The stats from brooksbaseball.net were impressive. Scherzer threw 25 changeups. A’s hitters swung at 22 of them, and whiffed on 10. That’s more swings and misses than Scherzer got against the A’s on ALL of his pitches in August. Only one of the six changeups put in play last night went for a base hit.

The way Scherzer talked about the game plan after the game didn’t sound like the changeup was originally going to be a big part of it.

“When you’re pitching, you go on your instincts,” Scherzer said. “Alex [Avila] and I had a game plan that we wanted to do early in the game and when you get in the game, sometimes it changes. And today we noticed that my fastball seemed pretty good and my changeup seemed pretty good. So early in the game, I was featuring those two pitches a lot and we had some success there in the game because of that. And that’s why I thought I was able to get in the groove and pitch deep into the game, because of those two pitches.”

That’s the type of adjustment Justin Verlander thrives on, and Scherzer has become better at making the last couple years. That’s not to say that Scherzer will shut down a team on his third- or fourth-best pitch like Verlander has done, but it means he can react to what hitters are trying to do against him. It’s also an example of why Avila works so well with these pitchers.

Other notes from the outing …

  • Scherzer used just 14 pitches to get through the opening inning, compared with 25 and 29 during his two regular-season meetings with the A’s this year. He also needed 14 pitches in the fourth. He didn’t have any innings shorter than that, but he didn’t have a 20-pitch inning until his last, when the A’s got 22 out of him. That relative efficiency early pretty much bought him the seventh inning, and it made the bullpen much more manageable.
  • Scherzer threw first-pitch strikes to 18 out of 26 hitters, compared with 15 out of 24 in August.
  • The A’s fouled off 26 pitches from Scherzer over seven innings, compared with 23 over five. The difference, however, was that just a handful of them came with two strikes to extend at-bats. In many cases, the foul balls came earlier in the count to put Scherzer ahead.
  • Oh, the curveball? Scherzer threw seven of them, five for strikes, none for swings and misses.
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