Lakeland, Fla. — Justin Verlander doesn’t simply pick up where he left off last year. No one does.
“That’s what spring training is for,” he said after a three-inning debut in the Tigers’ 9-5 victory Saturday over the Baltimore Orioles at Marchant Stadium. “There’s work to do. It’s not like you can just go back out there and be in midseason form.”
Verlander allowed one run on one hit, Ty Wigginton’s solo shot in the second. His targeted pitch count was 45. He threw 41.
There was an odd obstacle for Verlander to get past in this game, however. He had to sit for an extended amount of time while the Tigers scored six in the bottom of the first off Kevin Millwood.
“He got antsy,” manager Jim Leyland said of Verlander. “He came up to me and said something about saving the runs for the regular season. I said, ‘What do you want me to do about it?'”
For the most part, though, Verlander looked on course — which is all the Tigers could have wanted or expected. And, by the way, they waited until Saturday to start him because that puts him squarely on an every-fifth-day path to Opening Day in Kansas City on April 5.
“It was tough seeing (the Orioles) so aggressive,” Verlander said. “I wanted to mix it up a little bit, use some off-speed, but it’s spring training. I’m just out there to get my work in and do what I need to get done.”
After the long first inning, Verlander said, “When I got back out there, I felt like I wouldn’t be able to make the ball get to the plate — like I was making my first throw of the day. Sitting down for 45 minutes was a little tough.”
Forty-five minutes, Justin?
“It was a while. That’s why I told them, ‘Hey guys, save these for the season.'”
Probably the most important aspect of Verlander’s debut is that he threw some breaking balls that pleased him.
“My breaking ball has been pretty horse crap all spring,” he said. “I finally felt I threw some good ones, with good depth, today.”
One more thing: With Al Kaline saying the Tigers have the best overall talent he’s seen, and with Leyland on Saturday clearly liking what he sees in this team, how does Verlander feel about the year ahead?
“I usually don’t let myself get too over-excited,” he said, “but when I look around at the talent level, we have all the pieces.
“It’s just a matter of putting them together, playing the game the right way and winning games.”
Kelly not green anymore
Don Kelly continues to shine: He had two more hits and made an excellent play at second, ranging far to his left.
“He’s been working on his agility,” said Leyland. “He doesn’t make that play two or three years ago.”
Leyland spoke before the game about bunting more often for hits — and of the benefit about getting that possibility into opponents’ heads.
“It’s a big decision for the other team to make with two outs and a man on third (to play in or back). It can be a good offensive weapon. Every advance report we get, we want to know, ‘Does anybody bunt for a hit?'”
He still doesn’t know when he’s going to throw next — perhaps not until midweek — but Bobby Seay is feeling better about the soreness in his left arm. That’s because it’s the decreasing soreness in his left arm.
“It’s definitely getting better,” he said. “It’s a good test just to cock my arm back. It’s almost pain-free to do that now. I could feel a pinching before.”
Around the horn
Rookie Jay Sborz gave up four of the five Tigers’ runs, getting hit hard in the ninth.
… Casper Wells looked strong again, hitting a two-run home run in the sixth. Clete Thomas led off the first with a home run off Millwood.
About all the left-handers in camp, Leyland said: “I never remember having a surplus like this. Usually you’re going to the drive-in looking for one.”
… His dream never came true. About his managing career and his failed career as a player, Leyland said: “In a heartbeat, I’d give up my 19 years of managing for five years of playing. The pension wouldn’t be as good, though.”
… And one more Leyland quote on that same subject: “I wanted to be Yogi Berra, not John McGraw.”
… Brent Dlugach on the pronunciation of his last name: “I’m not surprised when people get it wrong. I’m surprised when they get it right.”
By the way, it’s Duh-loo-getch, according to the American League Red Book (which gets its guidance from the Tigers’ media relations staff).
… The Tigers are taking nearly their full squad to Dunedin on Sunday. Of the regulars, only Miguel Cabrera gets to stay back (and rehabbing Brandon Inge, of course).
Then again, Cabrera made the trip Wednesday when most of the regulars didn’t.