Oct. 15 Alex Avila off day interview

Q.  Alex, can you talk about the excitement of coming home with a 2 0 lead and also about the dominance of your starting pitching throughout the postseason thus far?

    ALEX AVILA:  Well, I mean, obviously I think as a team we are extremely excited being able to take two games in New York.  That's a tough place to play, a tough place to pitch.

    And, like you said, the job that our guys have done to this point has been amazing.  Really from the last month of the season until now they've thrown the ball really well, given us a chance to go deep into it.

    And, you know, it is exciting to come back home with Verlander going tomorrow, that's for sure.

    Q.  It seems like there's so much focus on how poorly the Yankees are hitting.  It seems almost overlooked the factor of how well you guys have pitched.  How much do you think their lack of hitting had to do with how well you guys have pitched?

    ALEX AVILA:  Well, I mean, I can tell you one thing, in our clubhouse that hasn't been overlooked.  Our guys have done great.

    Obviously they're a lineup of professional hitters, lineup of a lot of guys that have great track records.  Obviously when they struggle, you know, people are going to talk about them not hitting, which is fine.

    But at the same time I think you have to give our guys credit.  They have done a really good job.  To be honest with you, I mean, yesterday we were getting no hits through six innings, so we weren't doing much of anything either.  We were able to scratch out a couple of runs there.

    And it's definitely a tough game.  And obviously I can understand why people are concerned about, you know, their hitting, but at the same time our guys are doing a hell of a job, and hopefully that will continue.

    Q.  A two part question.  One is Jim Leyland commented on the teleconference earlier today that the game you called yesterday was one of the best he had ever seen; that he was really impressed with how you and Anibal were on the same page.  Can you talk about how you got on that same page together?

    ALEX AVILA:  I mean, you know, really I haven't been able to...I have been asked this question a couple of times already after the game, that really it's just being able to talk with Anibal, having caught him enough to really, you know, know exactly what he wants to do and stuff like that with each one of his starts.

    But the more we talk, you know, before games and in between the starts as far as game plan to hitters and stuff like that, the more comfortable we feel with each other, that's for sure.

    A lot of credit has to go to him because he put in a ton of work with myself and with Jones to get to know the American League hitters.  That was a transition for him to get used to a new league.  And the thing about him is he is the guy that can throw anything at any time and he's really fearless as far as throwing any pitch at any time in the count in any type of situation because he feels like he commands all of his pitches in the strike zone.

    And, you know, myself knowing that, and then also knowing which one is working the best at that time, you know, it definitely has been a learning process, you know, just by the more times I have caught him.

    But at the same time, you know, it is not only putting together a defense before a game with him and going over the hitters and details as far as what we want to try to do, but also make an adjustment like we did a few times when we had tough situations in yesterday's game.

    And, you know, with all of that, I think we definitely have been able to get on the same page and get him to where he can feel comfortable in the American League and with our team, and not only with myself find a place, but each time Gerald would catch him as well.

    Q.  And the second part is Verlander.  He is as good as he was last year and now in the postseason he seems to be taking it up a notch.  Talk about where you see him from last year to this year.

    ALEX AVILA:  Well, he has the same type of mentality, the same, you know, demeanor, the same preparation before every game.  You know, I really don't know, you know, any way to kind of pinpoint what has made him almost like even more dominant so far this postseason, other than maybe just execution.  I think probably one of the biggest things we had to our advantage going into the postseason was the fact that the last half of our season was like the postseason to where our pitchers were going out there knowing that we had to win that game.  Every game was a plus one for us.

    And last year we had basically almost three weeks where those games didn't mean anything.  And I think that has a lot to do with maybe the psyche not only for pitchers, but as a team.
 
    But at the same time, knowing Justin, the way he prepares, the way he goes about his game plan and starts, that didn't change.  I think it's just he has been able to execute a little bit better and just have better command of his pitches throughout the game.

    Q.  Alex, I was looking at one of the graphs, and I don't know if you are conscious of, I can't remember when you first got there, but Justin looks like he throws his fastball less and maybe more sliders and more changeups than he did even like two or three years ago.  Do you notice that?  Do you think he maybe evolved into a little bit of a different pitcher in terms of the selection, the breakdown he goes with?

    ALEX AVILA:  That's exactly what he's evolved into.  He's evolved into a pitcher, where earlier in his career he was pretty much a thrower and he was throwing to a game that everybody knew he threw in the mid to upper 90s, every once in a while throwing 100 miles an hour, 101.

    That's what hitters are looking for.  They will are looking for a hard fastball.  They're getting their timing going quicker so they can catch up to that.  Earlier in his career, his off speed stuff wasn't as developed.  He didn't throw the slider.  His changeup was still a work in progress.  And he still had a good curveball, he just didn't have the command he does now.

    That's what got him into the high pitch count early in games.  Where a lot of guys...everybody was talking about how he has great stuff, but he can't last after the seventh, eighth, ninth inning.  And as the years went on, he started to learn how to pitch and developing his off speed pitches, realized, well, I can get quick outs using off speed pitches to get the one pitch outs, allowing him to go deeper in games.

    That's really what he has done evolved into a guy that has great stuff, and he has great stuff and he can pitch.

    Q.  You were a little amazed at the way he maintains and is able to throw 120, 125, 130 pitches.  Nowadays you see guys looking at the dugout after 100.  What is it about him that allows him to go deep and maintain that long in games?

    ALEX AVILA:  To be truly honest with you, I have no idea.  He is an extremely hard worker in the offseason and in between his starts as far as being able to maintain his strength for the entire season.

    But that is just pure God given ability and you can't teach that.  You can't work through that.  That's something you are born with.

    Q.  I had a question about the bullpen.  I know sometimes it's hard to compare groups from one year to the other, but the bullpen made such a difference in last year's ALCS, especially to the Rangers, and it seemed like a big reason for you guys to kind of add some pieces, especially with Dotel.  How would you compare this year's bullpen to last?  And, also, not just from the personnel, but it seems like some guys have been streakier.  How has that impacted, from your standpoint, the way that Jim managed the bullpen and also the way you had to work with the relievers?

    ALEX AVILA:  Well, I would have to say there is a big difference between our bullpen this year and last year.  I think there are more guys that Skip feels that he can trust to put into a game in a tough situation.  For example, Smyly closing out the game in the first game.  You know, part of that had to do with the left handers that they had, but also Smyly is doing good for us this year.

    Our bullpen is deeper as far as the guys that Skip is able to use.  Last year I know basically it seemed like it was Benoit and Valverde.  Every single game they threw a lot.  And Skip really wanted to address going into this year we have to have the full bullpen to get through the season to win the series.

    And really the way he has been able to manage the bullpen recently, obviously because Jose has been struggling a little bit, basically the whole last month of the season and into the postseason he has gone a lot of match ups, but then he'll just go with the hot hand.  Really the guy that's pitching the best he's been throwing out there.

    And, you know, at this point of the season you have to go with the guy that is going to get outs.  But the fact of matter is the guys we have, I know he trusts them big time to get the job done.  And we have guys that he is able to match up.

    And the other thing is, too, our starters have gone deep into games, which allowed our guys to not throw as many innings, for them to be sharper.

    Q.  Basic question.  With so much going the Tigers' way in the series, is it advisable for the players not to think that it's going their way?

    ALEX AVILA:  I wouldn't say not to think it's going their way, but, you know, as players we understand that things can change real quickly.  I remember saying this when everybody was asking me if we were going to catch the White Sox when we were down three games, because a lot of people thought we weren't.  And things can change pretty quickly.

    Major League Baseball, one play, one call, something like that can just make everything change one way or the other.  That that's just the way it is.  As players, we know that from going like through a long season, going through tough games, not only down to the last month of the season, trying to catch it, but into the postseason where things change quickly.

    You have to keep things in perspective and know that at some point the team's going to make a run at you and try and, you know    like the Yankees are going to make a run.  They are going to break out.  They are going to score runs.  We have to be able to maintain that, limit the damage, and just basically continue to play hard and try to execute our game plan.  Because at some point it changes.  At some point the momentum changes.  At some point there's a shift there.  And as players you just know that.

    And that's why, like I said, things can happen quickly in a series, in one game, and change that.

    Q.  So when all the history of the LCS gets charted out and you hear that only a few teams and this and that about teams that have gone up 2 0, is that something you pay attention to, or is it something that can be a danger zone?

    ALEX AVILA:  No, that's not something that I think as players we pay attention to as far as just because we are up 2 0.  The reason why teams have gone up really quickly in a series like we have is because they recognize the situation they are in and they do whatever they can and they end up doing it.

    And sometimes...I can't tell you...I can tell you that we will try to win the next two games, but I don't know if that's going to happen.

    I think that teams that have been able to be successful after going up big in a series, like we had, have just been able to execute along the games following than they did the previous games.

    So that's really all we can try to do.  If we are able to execute, then we'll be in the lineup.  If we don't, we get it back.

    Q.  Going back to Justin for a second, is it possible to quantify the level of confidence that you guys have in him, especially in these situations?

    ALEX AVILA:  Well, I mean, he's our number one.  I think everybody feels extremely confident when he's on the mound.  To be honest with you, it seems like the last two, three years every time we had a loss, he comes out and the game he pitches we win.

    So the confidence as far as when he is on the mound that we can win the game is about as high as you can get.  Just the fact that even if he doesn't have his best stuff, not throwing his best game, we will still have a chance to win.

    I think that's the feeling all the guys have when he's on the mound, which, you know, really it's a good feeling, to be honest with you, because you know that you're going to be in the game, you know you'll have an opportunity to do something to win the game and, you know, here is your chance.

    Q.  Just curious what your thought is on the difference in Coke right now, what he may have figured out from his struggles earlier in the season.

    ALEX AVILA:  Well, I mean, the biggest difference I have seen is his command of his fastball.  I mean, sometimes I feel like I am a broken record when I talk about pitchers and what people ask me about guys doing well and stuff like that.  When a pitcher is able to command his fastball, you know, and really put it where he wants to, it sets up everything else as far as his repertoire, not pitching only to his strengths but to the hitter's weaknesses.

    And the biggest difference I've seen in Coke is the fastball command.  He throws in the mid 90s, which is really hard for a left hander, and he has a very good slider.  And throughout the season some of his struggles have been commanding his fastball.  It is either he is a little wild and falling behind hitters so then he would come over the middle of the plate, or he was just leaving the slider or the fastball over the plate and making too good of pitches.

    And recently his fastball has been perfect as far as throwing quality strikes.  Not just throwing it over the plate, but throwing to the corners of the plate.  And throwing to not just one side, but both sides, and getting the slider off the fastball.

    And that's going to be the case with every guy as far as their success, being able to command pitches.  If you know that a pitcher is struggling with his command, I mean, the advantage is so much more in your favor and you have much more confident in your at bat.  So a lot of his successes is based on being able to command his pitches.