Verlander strong as Tigers win again

LAKELAND, Fla. — Justin Verlander vowed last year that he would take every game seriously, even in spring training. After a season in which he was the AL MVP and unanimously won the Cy Young Award, he found no reason to change his focus.

Verlander picked up where he left off, pitching two scoreless innings in his exhibition debut as the Detroit Tigers beat the Toronto Blue Jays 4-2 Monday.

Verlander gave up one hit, struck out one and faced six batters, and said he felt ready for another inning. He went 24-5 last season, including a no-hitter at Toronto.

Asked if he was watching his line or merely trying to get ready for April, Verlander had an immediate answer.

“One hit, no walks,” he said. “I keep score no matter what.”

It’s that kind of intensity, along with a dazzling array of pitches, that made Verlander so dominant for the AL Central champions. Be it March or October, he’s ready.

“I have a lot to work on this spring,” he said. “I need to get more control and I wasn’t throwing my breaking ball for strikes, but it will come. I need to get a feel for my changeup, but that will also come.”

Tigers catcher Alex Avila said Verlander was just settling in.

“He was just working on his breaking ball, his slider and other things,” Avila said. “He had solid command. He has such command over things that makes him such a good pitcher.”

Verlander had some help in the field when Brandon Inge, trying to play second base for the first time since high school, went deep into the hole and made a long flip to shortstop Ramon Santiago, who is also up for the second base job. Santiago threw to first to complete the double play. That was the only time Verlander saw a baserunner.

“He was just trying to get the feel for his breaking ball and his changeup,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “I’m not thinking about last year and neither is he. He doesn’t have perfect control yet, but he’ll have it.”

A day after launching nine home runs against Atlanta on a windy day, the Tigers were held to a pair of extra-base hits — a double by Delmon Young and a triple from Quintin Berry.

Collin Balester pitched a scoreless ninth for a save.

Colby Rasmus doubled and singled for the Blue Jays.

Henderson Alvarez started and pitched a scoreless inning for Toronto. Drew Carpenter went two innings, allowing one run.

Blue Jays manager John Farrell said he was impressed by Alvarez, who went 1-3 in 10 starts for the Jays last season. He went one inning and allowed only a walk.

“Henderson pitched well last year and he’s picked up where he left off,” Farrell said. “He stayed in the strike zone and he looked good.”

NOTES: Ricky Romero will start for the Blue Jays on Tuesday against Philadelphia. … Farrell said he was also impressed by Evan Crawford, who struck out two n his only inning. … Leyland said he plans to be creative this spring with his batting orders, suggesting that at times he might bat Avila or Inge in the second spot that is normally reserved for OF Brennan Boesch. Leyland said he wants to make sure everyone gets extra at-bats. … Leyland said he was intrigued by pitchers Bryan Villarreal and Jose Ortega. He described them as “young, wild horses.” … Leyland predicted the Tigers would be dull to watch early in the spring. No bunting, nothing exciting, he said. “We are going to be very boring,” Leyland said. “I just want to get swings and let them play.”