LAKELAND, Fla. — Justin Verlander staked an early claim to regaining his role as the Detroit Tigers’ ace, throwing two shutout innings Wednesday in a 5-4 win over Atlanta in each team’s spring training opener.
Verlander struggled to an 11-17 record and 4.84 ERA last season. Rookie Armando Galarraga, called up in mid-April when Dontrelle Willis went on the disabled list, went 13-7 with a 3.73 ERA and proved to be a pleasant surprise in an otherwise disappointing season in Detroit.
"I felt strong," Verlander said. "Spring training got the best of me last year because I tried to do too much to be the ace. This year I just want to let the batters make contact. I am not going to make too much of anything, but if I can just get a good mix of pitches I can get it done."
Manager Jim Leyland said that, despite Verlander’s troubles in 2008, he has penciled him in as the Opening Day starter.
"He got hyped up last year," Leyland said of Verlander. "I talked to him and he won’t let that happen to him this year. There’s nothing wrong with him."
Verlander said he was disappointed to be left off the U.S. roster for the World Baseball Classic, but he didn’t mind staying in Lakeland and working with new catchers Gerald Laird and Matt Treanor.
Detroit opened the scoring on Miguel Cabrera’s first-inning sacrifice fly that scored Curtis Granderson. Laird tripled and doubled in his first two at-bats, scoring on a wild pitch in the second inning and Adam Everett’s sacrifice fly in the fourth.
Atlanta tied it in the fifth on Brian McCann’s sacrifice fly and Freddie Freeman’s two-run single, then went ahead in the seventh on Jordan Schaefer’s leadoff homer.
The Tigers tied it in the bottom of the seventh on a Casper Wells single that scored Ramon Santiago, and Santiago put Detroit ahead with an RBI single in the eighth.
Japanese import Fu-Te Ni got the win for the Tigers after pitching a scoreless eighth inning, retiring all three batters he faced. Kyle Bloom pitched a scoreless ninth.
Detroit veteran Gary Sheffield was kept out of the lineup after being hit in the left elbow during batting practice on Tuesday. Leyland said Sheffield could have played Wednesday, but he decided to give him two days off before he suits up on Friday against Toronto in Dunedin.
Verlander, who gave up one hit and two walks and didn’t allow a ball out of the infield, said he expected the Tigers to bounce back from last season’s 74-88 campaign.
"We are more focused this year," he said. "We didn’t do what we thought we could do last year, but that was a fluke. We are too good to do that again. Just call last year a fluke."Notes: Carlos Guillen, who has played in only six games in the outfield in his career and only two with the Tigers, caught the only ball hit his way on Wednesday. Leyland said Guillen is comfortable with his move from the infield, where he has been versatile throughout his five-year tenure in Detroit. ... Leyland said Laird and Treanor were adjusting well to the Tigers’ pitchers. Laird caught against the Braves but will not make the trip to Viera on Thursday. Treanor will make his Tigers catching debut against the Nationals.