05 April 2012
But we saw a different side of Verlander last season as he tore through the American Legue en route to a Cy Young and an MVP award. He dialed the fastball back in the opening innings, he mixed his pitches, and steadily ramped up the velocity as the game progressed and when he needed that 'little extra' to get out of a jam. But it wasn't simply his pitching strategy that changed, it was demeanor as well. Gone was his former 'JV scowl' that would appear when he would hit a road bump, and gone was the stubbornness to (attempt to) will his pitches past hitters. In their stead was a calm confidence and control that displayed his complete trust in his ability to truly pitch (not throw) himself through any situation.
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I first realized that something was different about Verlander on May 7 of last year while he was in the process of no-hitting the Toronto Blue Jays. J.P. Arencibia drew a walk after an epic 12-pitch plate appearance to ruin what was then a bid for a perfect game. The old JV may have allowed the walk -- and the breaking up of his perfect game -- to get inside his head and affect his composure. But Justin wasn't thrown off his game. He smiled and shruged his shoulders and then got right back to business and completed the second no-hitter of his career. Been there, done that.
And just as Verlanded didn't allow himself to become "too amped" during that second no-hitter of his career, he didn't allow himself to be "too amped" on Opening Day as he set out to defend his American League Cy Young and MVP hardware. It was Opening Day of the 2012 season but it was vintage 2011 Verlander that took the hill for the Tigers. He gave the team eight strong innings (105 pitches) of two-hit ball, struck out seven, walked only one, and, most importantly, kept Red Sox off the scoreboard.
The save was blown by Jose Valverde, who allowed two Red Sox batters to score in the top of the ninth inning, but Papa Grande was awarded the win (a terrible stat, to be sure) after Austin Jackson singled in the winning run in the bottom of the inning. I wasn't necessarily overjoyed that the Tigers picked up Valverde's option for this season -- he's posted a FIP in the mid-to-upper threes inboth of his seasons as a Tiger, and his walk rate has been up above four per nine innings -- but I'm not going to let this one instance of a blown save ruffle my feathers too much. He's earned a little bit of grace (even from 'haters' like me).
The Tigers managed ten hits on offense, but the run scoring potential was hampered by three double plays. The standouts at the plate were Jhonny Peralta (3-3, 2B, BB, R), Austin Jackson (3-5, 3B, R, RBI, 0 K), Miguel Cabrera (0-1, 3 BB) and Alex Avila (2-4, 2B, RBI). Prince Fielder was 1-3 with a sacrifice fly and an RBI in his Tigers debut.
Matt Snyder is the editor of The Tigers Den. He can be reached on Twitter @snyder_matthew.