Revisiting the Opening Day Loss

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With now close to 24 hours to digest the first game of the 2011 season, I’ve realized that there are a few more things to discuss here.

First there’s Justin Verlander‘s pitch count. He tossed 114 pitches in his inaugural start yesterday and that number seems to be too high for most folks. Tigers manager Jim Leyland said after the game that Verlander was slated for 110 pitches, so going four pitches over his cap isn’t too bad. Verlander did not make a start during camp that lasted as many as 100 pitches.

This is Verlander we’re talking about here, not Rick Porcello or some other pitcher who needs to be coddled. Verlander lead baseball in pitches thrown in 2009 and if he wasn’t the leader last year, I’m sure he was close (I haven’t looked it up). He’s been durable if nothing else in each season of his career and while no pitcher is a non-risk as far as injury is concerned, Verlander is as good a bet as any to stay healthy. In short, I have no issue at all with his pitch total. His first inning, on the other hand, where he threw 31 pitches…. Well that’s just Justin being Justin.

I also maybe a little hard on Alex Avila yesterday. In my defense, Avila had a terrible game. But he really shouldn’t have been in there.

If the plan is to have Victor Martinez catch against left handers (and certainly against ones as good as CC Sabathia) then Avila should have started the season on the bench and we should have seen Casper Wells or Brennan Boesch in the lineup at DH. Avila was put into a position to fail by his manager. that he did fail should surprise no one.

I’m not giving up on Avila by any stretch, I think he’ll be much improved over a year ago, but Leyland must recognize the strengths of his team and play to those strengths. Giving a guy a start against a pitcher he has almost no shot at hitting is a fool’s errand and Opening Day or not, Leyland should have known better.

While I’m on the subject of Leyland and his in-game decisions, I noted yesterday that Phil Coke‘s relief appearance didn’t go well. I don’t fault Leyland for this one. As he said after the game, Coke is the veteran down there. What left hander should he have chosen to work the seventh inning of a tie game in Yankee Stadium? Coke was the right man for the job, he just didn’t get it done. There will be better days ahead for him, hopefully about 30 of them when he’s in the rotation in just over a week.

We are all of one game into a 162 game marathon. The season won’t be determined by how they play against the Yankees, it will be decided by their record within the AL Central. As long as they can go out and win a couple of games on this road trip (three would be ideal), they will be fine heading home. Besides, it’s always good to get the Yankees out of the way as soon as possible.

That said, I do like the pitching matchups over the next two games; Brad Penny and Max Scherzer against A.J. Burnett and Phil Hughes. Oddly enough, given the recent histories of these four pitchers, I’m not sure any of these games will be well-pitched. Penny looked good most-of-the-time in camp while Scherzer was terrible. Burnett had a horrible season last year and Hughes benefited from outlandish run support. We should be in-line for a couple of 10-8 games, but it being early April in new York we’ll probably see far less offense.

Whatever happens with the starters, Detroit will have to find a way to get outs in the middle innings. After the way the bullpen looked yesterday, that may be easier said than done.

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