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Leyland Gambles, Verlander Wins, Everyone Exhales

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Manager Jim Leyland #10 and Gene Lamont #22 of the Detroit Tigers look on from the dugout.  (File photo by G. Newman Lowrance/Getty Images)

Manager Jim Leyland #10 and Gene Lamont #22 of the Detroit Tigers look on from the dugout. (File photo by G. Newman Lowrance/Getty Images)

2005-0308-dt-wojnowski126 K) Bob Wojnowski
Bob "Wojo" Wojnowski has covered sports in Detroit since before the...
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By: Bob Wojnowski

I’m sure Jim Leyland loves managing Justin Verlander. Who wouldn’t? He’s the best pitcher in baseball, equal parts supreme talent and dogged workhorse.

But I’m also sure, at times, Leyland really, really frets while managing Verlander. Who wouldn’t? You want to use every ounce of his dominance, but not over-use it. You want to give him every chance to close out a game, but also protect Verlander from himself.

Leyland took a major risk Monday night in Kansas City, and I have a feeling that’s the last time he’s doing it for a while. Oh it worked, ultimately. He left Verlander in for the ninth inning, and on his 131st pitch, Verlander struck out Alex Gordon on a 100-mph fastball with the bases loaded to seal the Tigers’ 3-2 victory.

Verlander joked afterward that he knows Leyland can’t win in that situation. Pull the ace too soon or too late, or juuuuust right?

I like that Leyland sent Verlander back out for the ninth, after 104 pitches. Verlander said this was an exorcising-the-demons deal because he had blown his last game in the ninth. He wanted to fix that. Leyland allowed him, despite the unorthodox nature of it.

But once trouble beckoned, this turned squeamish. What if the Royals had scored again? Would there have to be another demon-exorcising the next outing? Yikes. Leyland truly can’t win in that situation.

Verlander would pitch through the ninth inning every game, if allowed. Leyland can’t allow it, and now this little exercise is over. Jose Valverde has not been good so far, but he’s an accomplished closer, and in situations like that, he has to close — unless, he proves he can’t do it anymore.

Verlander apologized for raising his manager’s blood pressure. Of course, it’s usually Valverde’s job to raise everyone’s blood pressure, and it will be again. I don’t think one 131-pitch outing in April will damage Verlander in the long run. But that’s the last time I’d take the chance.

Bob.wojnowski@detnews.com

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