LAKELAND, Fla. -- Jim Leyland got his easiest decision of spring training out of the way: He named AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander Detroit's opening-day starter.
"I just assumed everybody figured that," Leyland said after Verlander pitched four shutout innings Saturday in the Tigers' 5-5, 10-inning tie with a Washington Nationals split squad."If you want me to make (the announcement) formal, I'll make it formal," Leyland said. "That was pretty much a no-brainer."The Tigers open the regular season at home April 5 against the Boston Red Sox.Coming off a season in which he went 24-5 and led the AL in ERA (2.40) and strikeouts (250), Verlander appeared to be in midseason form Saturday, although he didn't think so.He called his first inning and bullpen session "horrible" and said he was "way out of rhythm."Those comments came after striking out four of the 13 batters he faced and scattering three singles. Two of the baserunners were caught stealing by catcher Alex Avila.The Nationals never got anyone to second base against Verlander, who left the game with a 4-0 lead."He's probably a little hard on himself at times," Leyland said.Verlander was able to work past the early trouble, though."It's a good sign in the second start of the spring that I was able to figure it out pretty quickly," he said. "To be that far off and be able to bring it back and start to get a rhythmic feel in the second inning, that is a very good positive for me."Asked for his definition of horrible, Verlander said he couldn't throw strikes in the bullpen.Brandon Inge homered off Washington starter John Lannan, and Brennan Boesch's homer in the fourth inning gave the Tigers a 4-0 lead.Lannan gave up two runs on four hits. A bloop single by Delmon Young helped make it a lengthy first inning, and Lannan left after only two innings."They've got a pretty good lineup and I thought he handled it pretty good," said bench coach Randy Knorr, acting as manager of the Nationals split squad. "The ball that fell made him throw more pitches."But after two Tiger errors led to a three-run inning for the Nationals, Corey Brown homered off Tigers closer Jose Valverde and Andres Blanco connected against setup man Joaquin Benoit to lift the Nationals into a 5-4 lead.Rookies Avisail Garcia and Argenis Diaz had consecutive doubles to tie it for the Tigers in the eighth inning.
The opening day start will be Verlander's fifth straight. ... Garcia ended the Nationals' big sixth inning with a perfect throw to third base to complete a double play after a running catch. ... A throw from center fielder Matt Young cut down another Washington run at the plate in the ninth. ... Tiger starters have not given up a home run this spring.