LAKELAND, Fla. - Justin Verlander staked an early claim to regaining his role as the Detroit Tigers' ace, throwing two shutout innings yesterday in a 5-4 win over the Atlanta Braves in each team's spring training opener.
Verlander struggled to an 11-17 record and 4.84 ERA last season. Rookie Armando Galarraga, called up in mid-April when Dontrelle Willis went on the disabled list, went 13-7 with a 3.73 ERA and proved to be a pleasant surprise in an otherwise disappointing season in Detroit.
"I felt strong," Verlander said. "Spring training got the best of me last year because I tried to do too much to be the ace. This year I just want to let the batters make contact. I am not going to make too much of anything, but if I can just get a good mix of pitches I can get it done."
Manager Jim Leyland said that, despite Verlander's troubles in 2008, he has him penciled in as the opening day starter.
"He got hyped up last year," Leyland said. "I talked to him, and he won't let that happen to him this year. There's nothing wrong with him."
Verlander said he was disappointed to be left off the U.S. roster for the World Baseball Classic, but he didn't mind staying in Lakeland and working with new catchers Gerald Laird and Matt Treanor.