Tigers throw their ace

Verlander hoping to repeat success of other starters

10/16/2012
ASSOCIATED PRESS
Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander throws at Comerica Park in Detroit to prepare for his start against the New York Yankees in Game 3 of the American League championship series.
Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander throws at Comerica Park in Detroit to prepare for his start against the New York Yankees in Game 3 of the American League championship series.

DETROIT — There were times this year when Justin Ver­lander took the mound while his team was reel­ing a bit — and the right-hander's pres­ence was Detroit's best shot at snap­ping out of a mo­men­tary funk.

Now, the hard-throw­ing ace is in a dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tion. Led by Ver­lander, the Tigers' ro­ta­tion has been ab­so­lutely ter­rific this post­sea­son, and his job is sim­ply to keep this re­mark­able run go­ing against the slump­ing New York Yan­kees.

"I think pitch­ing, much like hit­ting, is con­ta­gious," Ver­lander said. "Guys go out there night in and night out and see guys have a good game, and the next day he wants to have a good game, so on and so forth. And I think that's what we are feed­ing on right now."

The Tigers won the first two games of the AL cham­pi­on­ship se­ries in New York, hold­ing the Yan­kees score­less ex­cept for one brief up­ris­ing against closer-in-limbo Jose Valverde. With the ex­cep­tion of Valverde, no Detroit pitcher has al­lowed an earned run since Game 3 of the di­vi­sion se­ries against Oak­land.

Ver­lander takes the mound to­day at 8:07 p.m. in Game 3 of the ALCS. The reign­ing AL MVP won both his starts against the A's, throw­ing a shut­out in the de­ci­sive fifth game.

"As a ro­ta­tion, right now things are go­ing well," Ver­lander said dur­ing Mon­day's off-day. "It is nice to see us get roll­ing as a group, and hope­fully we can con­tinue it through the World Ser­ies."

Detroit's start­ers have posted an 0.94 ERA in the play­offs this year. The post­sea­son record for a start­ing staff pitch­ing at least seven games is 1.05, set by the 1920 Cleve­land In­di­ans, ac­cord­ing to STATS LLC.

Ver­lander, Max Scherzer, Doug Fis­ter, and Ani­bal San­chez are off to that type of start this year.

Detroit's pitch­ing dis­play has gone hand in hand with New York's hor­ren­dous slump. Derek Jeter is out for the year af­ter break­ing an an­kle in Game 1 of this se­ries, and the Yan­kees des­per­ately need their other stars to start hit­ting. Robin­son Cano, Alex Ro­dri­guez, Cur­tis Grand­er­son, and Nick Swisher are a com­bined 12 for 107 — for a .112 bat­ting av­er­age — in the play­offs.

Add catcher Rus­sell Mar­tin, and five reg­u­lars are be­low .200, hit­ting a com­bined 17 for 133 with 42 strike­outs — 25 more strike­outs than hits. They have a com­bined seven RBIs, four of those by Cano.

"We can't score seven runs, eight runs in one at-bat," first base­man Mark Teix­eira said. "It's mo­men­tum. When things are go­ing bad, they can be re­ally bad, but when things are go­ing good, we're ca­pa­ble of put­ting up a whole bunch of runs."

The Yan­kees have ac­tu­ally had a de­cent amount of suc­cess against Ver­lander. He faced New York three times this sea­son, and the Yan­kees won twice. Phil Hughes, who will start Game 3 for New York, pitched a com­plete game against Ver­lander in a win over the Tigers on June 3.

"Ob­vi­ously, Ver­lander is a great pitcher, but he is hu­man, and we know we can score off him," Hughes said. "I just have to do a bet­ter job than he does. It's go­ing to be a chal­lenge, but, like I said, I'm look­ing for­ward to it."

In his most re­cent start against the Yan­kees, on Aug. 6, Ver­lander struck out 14 in eight in­nings.

"You want to face fa­mil­iar pitch­ers, even if he hap­pens to be the best pitcher on the planet," Teix­eira said.

With the start­ers pitch­ing bril­liantly, Detroit's big con­cern right now is the bull­pen. Valverde al­lowed the Yan­kees to tie Game 1 with four runs in the ninth, and al­though the Tigers won 6-4 in the 12th, Detroit man­ager Jim Ley­land needed to change plans a bit. He used Phil Coke to close out a 3-0 win in Game 2, and the left-hander pitched the fi­nal two in­nings.

Coke may be a vi­a­ble op­tion against a New York lineup with plenty of left-handed power, but it's clear the sit­u­a­tion is still in flux.

"I am just go­ing to play it out and see what hap­pens, see what kind of matchup there is," Ley­land said. "I am hop­ing that Valverde in the very near fu­ture is ready to take back over. As I said, that is pretty im­por­tant that we have him."

Of course, if Detroit's ro­ta­tion keeps up its record pace, the pres­sure on the bull­pen could be min­i­mal. Can the Yan­kees pos­si­bly hit this poorly for an­other few days? Ley­land is skep­ti­cal.

"We're just hop­ing we can keep the Yan­kees from swing­ing the bats too good," Ley­land said. "You are cer­tainly con­cerned about it be­cause they are just too good. They are too good of hit­ters and you know they will break out at some point. You just try to shut them down to the best of your abil­ity and scratch out a few runs. The runs are pretty much at a pre­mium so far."

HE'LL MANAGE: New York Yan­kees bench coach Tony Pena was in Boston on Mon­day, in­ter­view­ing for the Red Sox man­ag­ing job that opened when Bobby Val­en­tine was re­cently fired.

The 55-year-old Pena was the 2003 AL man­ager of the year with Kan­sas City. He was hon­ored af­ter lead­ing the Roy­als to a win­ning sea­son, their only one since 1994.

A five-time all-star and four-time Gold Glove catcher, Pena has ties to the Red Sox. He played for Boston from 1990-93, and his son, Tony, Jr., spent the last two years pitch­ing in Tri­ple-A for the Red Sox.

Pena has been the Yan­kees' bench coach for four years, fol­low­ing three sea­sons as their first base coach.

"Tony is a good base­ball guy, one of the guys that played in the game for al­most 20 years," Yan­kees first base­man Mark Teix­eira said Mon­day.

DISPLEASED DONALD: Don­ald Trump has called on star Alex Ro­dri­guez to do­nate his con­tract to char­ity.

"He doesn't make the (at)yan­kees any money, and he doesn't per­form," Trump tweeted. "He is a $30M/yr rip off."

Ro­dri­guez is 3 for 23 this year in the play­offs, but he wasn't the only Yan­kees player that Trump gave a hard time. Derek Jeter is out for the sea­son af­ter break­ing his an­kle in Game 1, and Trump nee­dled him for his real es­tate de­ci­sions.

"Derek Jeter had a great ca­reer un­til three days ago when he sold his apart­ment at Trump World Tower," Trump tweeted.