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A sometimes-irreverent look at Detroit's Boys of Summer, the Tigers, as they try to return to the top of the American League Central.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Changes to pitching schedule won't faze Tigers a bit

There’s something to be said for the art of managing.

If, as a big-league manager, you constantly fly off the handle, your team is probably going to overreact right along with you.

If, instead, like Detroit Tigers manger Jim Leyland is so often wont to do, you keep an even keel, your team is probably going to reflect that, too.

That “que sera, sera” (whatever will be, will be) attitude is part of the reason the Tigers were able to win 95 games in the regular season, and break their 24-year division title drought.

And it’s why Friday’s deluge — which threw both the schedule of the American Division Series and the pitching rotations therein into confusion — won’t be treated as a the end of the world.

“You know what? This is not a big deal. Everybody does the best they can,” Leyland said after Friday’s game was called after torrential rain stopped the game following top of the second inning; it will be picked up from that point Saturday night. “Everybody’s sort of scurrying around right now, but there’s no sense getting excited. It’s just the way it is.”

And that’s the way the Tigers are handling the fact that — rather than twice, in Games 1 and 5 — ace Justin Verlander will only throw once in the series now. After throwing one inning Friday, he’s been slated to go again on Monday in Game 3 at Comerica Park.

Some are making it out to be a colossal detriment to the Tigers’ chances.

Not Leyland.

“I don’t make a big deal about stuff like that. I think when the manager makes a big deal about things like that, it affects the players. It is what it is,” he said in Friday’s postgame press conference.
“Good lord, it rained. So what? It’s all about three. You know? Win three, lose three. That’s what this is about. The magic number is three. For both teams. That’s the way it is. There’s no sense getting excited.”

Seems to me we’ve been here before.

Back in mid-August, when the Cleveland Indians had closed to a game and a half behind the Tigers entering a head-to-head series, Leyland steadfastly refused to panic, and pitch Verlander in the Sunday finale. Instead, over his ace’s stated objections, Leyland gave him an extra day of rest, saving him to start the next series, on the road in Tampa Bay.

In essence, the skipper’s message to his team was “I think you can win this series without him.”

Boy, did they ever.

The Tigers outscored the Indians 22-9 in the series, winning the finale 8-7 on Austin Jackson’s catch-and-throw double play to nab the potential tying run at the plate for the final out of the game. The Tigers would never lead by fewer than five games the rest of the way.

Leyland will to this day insist that the Tampa series — when the Tigers took three out of four from the eventual AL Wild Card in a low-scoring series — was the pivotal point of the 2011 season.

Even his ace doesn’t entirely follow that reasoning.

“I think more the Cleveland series, for me, is the one I kind of look at, especially the way we swept that game with Austin throwing the guy out at home,” Verlander said recently. “That was a real jumping-off point, I thought.”

Another jumping-off point was the acquisition of Doug Fister at the trade deadline. He’s pitched like 1-A in the Tigers’ rotation since mid-August, actually putting up better numbers than Verlander, the prohibitive favorite for the Cy Young, in that span.

And now it’ll be Fister who will probably throw twice in the series. He’ll pitch the resumption of Game 1 Saturday night, then go again in Game 5, if necessary.

“I don’t think it changes a thing,” Verlander told MLB Network, when asked what a difference that makes.

The only thing that changes for the two teams is that pitching depth may be more of a factor.
The Tigers carried all five of their starters on the postseason roster: Verlander and Fister, along with Max Scherzer — who is now slated to go in Sunday’s Game 2 — and Rick Porcello — who will throw in Game 4, as originally planned. They also kept fifth starter Brad Penny, who has more playoff pitching experience than anyone else on the roster, hoping he’d be a bonus, should they need a long reliever or a spot starter.

For the Yankees, who’d planned to go with a three-man rotation, the plan changes more drastically.

Manager Joe Girardi has said that Game 1 starter CC Sabathia, who threw 27 pitches in two innings of work Friday, won’t be back sooner than Monday. Sabathia would have to pitch Sunday at the latest, if he were to be able to pitch a second time in the series himself, going in Game 5 on three days rest.

That forces Girardi to likely have to use a fourth starter — the struggling A.J. Burnett and his 5.15 ERA, probably in Game 4 — after rookie Ivan Nova pitches Saturday, and journeyman one-time Tiger Freddy Garcia pitches in Sunday’s Game 2.

Advantage? Probably the Tigers, who seem to have the advantage of depth.

But most of all, the Tigers have the advantage because they don’t seem to think it’s a big deal, either way.

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