Leyland's plan for Verlander works to perfection

Leyland's plan for Verlander works to perfection

ARLINGTON -- Justin Verlander lobbied to try to work his way into the bullpen mix for Game 5 of the American League Division Series. Tigers manager Jim Leyland stayed steadfast in his plan.

They went back and forth about it. This is not exactly news.

"He says po-tay-to," Verlander said. "I say po-tah-to."

Now that they've gotten past that and advanced to the ALCS against the Rangers, he's no longer lobbying. The plan is working out.

After effectively pitching only once in the best-of-five Division Series -- plus an inning in Game 1 thanks to a weather suspension -- Verlander is lined up to lead off this series (first pitch is scheduled for 8:05 p.m. ET with a 7:30 p.m. broadcast time on FOX) and start again in Game 5 on regular rest. Max Scherzer, who helped beat the Yankees twice in the Division Series, will get two cracks at the Rangers in Games 2 and 6 after being cleared to pitch on two days' rest following his relief appearance in New York. Doug Fister gets his old AL West foes in Game 3 and a potential Game 7 showdown.

Tale of the Tape: Game 1
2011 Regular Season
Overall: 34 GS, 24-5, 2.40 ERA, 57 BB, 250 K
Overall: 34 GS, 16-7, 2.94 ERA, 74 BB, 206 K
Key stat: 251 IP, first in Majors
Key stat: 31 GIDP, most in Majors
At the Ballpark in Arlington
2011: No appearances
Career: 3 GS, 3-0, 1.29 ERA
2011: 16 GS, 8-2, 3.69 ERA
Career: 38 GS, 172 APP, 27-14, 3.89 ERA
Against this opponent
2011: 1 GS, 0-1, 2.00 ERA
Career: 9 GS, 6-2, 2.31 ERA
2011: 1 GS, 0-0, 5.40 ERA
Career: 7 G, 1 GS, 0-1, 5.56 ERA
Loves to face: Elvis Andrus, 1-for-11, 1 K
Hates to face: Josh Hamilton, 4-for-11, 2 RBIs
Loves to face: Victor Martinez, 3-for-17, 5 K
Hates to face: Wilson Betemit, 2-for-6, 1 2B
Game breakdown
Why he'll win: AL's Triple Crown winner, 3-0 lifetime against Texas.
Why he'll win:
Went 2-1 with a 0.86 ERA in last five regular season starts.
Pitcher beware: Just 2-2 with a 5.58 ERA lifetime in the postseason.
Pitcher beware: Allowed eight runs, including three homers, in ALDS start.
Bottom line: Just be Verlander
Bottom line: Rebound from ALDS

Aside from a quick turnaround for Scherzer, it's just the way the Tigers wanted it. They'll take their chances getting four wins out of six starts from their top three pitchers, all of whom have been going well lately.

It's a fact that Leyland didn't hesitate to remind his ace in the midst of the Tigers' Division Series-clinching celebration.

"Him and I always seem to differ one way or another," Verlander said. "After the game, I can't quite remember, it was in the middle of the celebration, I think he came up to me and [said] something along of the lines of, 'You never trust your skipper, do you? It worked out all right, didn't it?'

"Him and I just always had that special kind of relationship."

It began with a Rookie of the Year season for Verlander, a Manager of the Year award for Leyland and a World Series berth for both of them in 2006. It continued through a young right-hander's growing pains and a veteran manager's attempts at guidance. Now, Verlander's potential MVP season helped lead the Tigers to their first division title in 24 years.

Verlander doesn't have to throw 100 mph all the time, Leyland would say. He could pitch deeper into games if he didn't try to strike out every batter, he argued another time, and the strikeouts would still come. He could benefit from an extra day of rest every now and then, he concluded.

Usually, Verlander would hear him out, but that didn't necessarily mean he followed his advice. He's a creature of habit and the product of a well-maintained routine. Eventually, he adjusted, picking out advice he believes he can use and looking past what doesn't make sense for him.

Leyland would complain half-jokingly that Verlander would never listen to him, but he knew otherwise. That doesn't mean Verlander doesn't try to make his case, but he doesn't hammer at it. When he asked about pitching on short rest in the last series, it was a short conversation that ended with Leyland telling him it wasn't happening.

Leyland has had his share of second-guessing this year, but it has come from fans and talk show hosts, not from his ace pitcher. They have their differences, but they've built a mutual respect and a friendship, even if Verlander nearly rolls his eyes when asked to describe Leyland to someone who has never met him.

"Oh, God," Verlander said half-jokingly in his Friday press conference.

"He's a great people person," Verlander said. "He handles individuals extremely well. He's a good leader, commands respect. All these things, it's hard to accomplish all in one. That's what makes him a great manager. He's a leader, you know he's a leader, but yet you feel like he's your friend at the same time."

When rain washed out Verlander's start for Game 1 of the ALDS, Verlander tried to make his case to start Game 2 instead of 3.

"It went along the lines of, 'Hey, Skip, I can go on Sunday,'" Verlander said, "'No, you're going on Monday.' 'OK.'"

When Leyland turned him down for a Game 5 relief appearance, Verlander joked that he might try to some chicanery without his manager noticing.

"I might not say anything," Verlander said. "Maybe I'll just go down to the bullpen. I know he won't let me. I've tried too many times before. He always says no and gets mad at me. If I go down there and maybe if he sees me warming up, maybe he'll think differently."

Didn't happen. Leyland never wavered from the plan. If the Tigers advanced, Leyland wanted him leading off the ALCS. Just to get him back, he had Verlander throw his side session Thursday, then told him to get ready to pitch in relief, just to watch his face.

"He came up to me in the clubhouse and said, 'I can't believe you're not pitching me tonight,'" Leyland said, "I said, 'What do you mean? I might pitch you.' He said, 'What? I just threw my side.' I said, 'I told the pitching coach not to throw you.' And I finally got one over on Justin Verlander."

They were still chuckling about it during pregame batting practice Thursday. Hours later, they were reaping the benefits.

"You respect him," Verlander said. "All those things encompass a great manager. I think he is that guy. That's who he is."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.