By Ashley Dunkak
COMERICA PARK (CBS DETROIT) – In 2011 or 2012, no one would have ever thought to question whether Justin Verlander would start game one of any playoff series for the Detroit Tigers.
This season, though, Verlander is no longer the best pitcher on the starting rotation. That honor goes to Max Scherzer, who won 21 games and finished the season with a 2.90 ERA and a 4.29 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Verlander, so unanimously “the guy,” so easily the best the past two seasons, when he won the Cy Young and MVP in 2011 and finished second in Cy Young voting in 2012, lost his stranglehold on number one this season.
After struggling throughout this season, even though he feels he is now getting back to form, Verlander understands the decision to make Scherzer the game one starter.
“I talked to Jeff [Jones], our pitching coach, and I knew that they’d be talking about it coming up soon, and I told him, ‘Hey, do I want to start game one? Absolutely. But I understand what’s going on here,'” Verlander explained. “Like I said, our goal’s to win a World Series. And I said, ‘If you guys think Max is the best call to go game one, I have no problem with that whatsoever.
“I’m a team player,” Verlander added. “You put your ego aside, you fight for a single goal. This is our family, and I went up to Max and told him congratulations. He’s earned it. He absolutely has. He’s had an unbelievable season,”
Tigers manager Jim Leyland would not compare the two starters. He said he did not know how they reacted to the news because he did not deliver it. He did say that he felt that the decision to go with Scherzer was not a difficult one.
“I truly feel that I can start any one of my guys and I would feel comfortable, but I think that the kind of year Scherzer’s had, I think that certainly I’m sure somebody can find something wrong with this choice, but I think that’s kind of hard to argue,” Leyland said.
Besides, every game is critical in a five-game series, so pitching the second game is not exactly a demotion, and Leyland would trust Verlander to start the fifth game if for some reason Scherzer could not go.
“When you play a five-game series, it doesn’t take long, however it turns out,” Leyland said. “It doesn’t take long. And the other part of that equation is … the way the days are set up, if something happened in game one, you could start your second-game starter in game five on regular rest.”
Lest that set off any controversy over whether the game five starter will be determined by Scherzer’s and Verlander’s performances in games one and two, Leyland clarified that unless something happens, like Scherzer being hurt or extremely worn out after game won, Scherzer would also pitch game five.
No pitcher wants to be replaced, but he can hardly be insulted when the player chosen to go instead of him is one who started the All-Star game, won 21 games and is a favorite for the Cy Young. Of course, this season that was Scherzer.
“Obviously it’s the coach’s decision, and hey, you know what, if it was me I’d probably make the same decision because Max just had a magical season. and when a guy has a season like that and everything’s going right, why not ride it?” Verlander said. “if I was in their shoes, I’d do the same thing.”
Leyland said the pitchers got the news in Miami but that the coaches had been considering the question for a while.
“We’ve been tossing it around ever since we clinched,” Leyland said. “We tossed it around even some before we clinched, to be honest with you, but we couldn’t let that out to the press because that doesn’t read good when you’re talking about having something won already, so we didn’t. I guess we just decided the last couple days. We informed the pitchers in Miami because Jeff Jones felt that it was pretty important for them to know so their routine leading up to that, they could get their routine in place without any distraction.”
Regardless of who starts where, catcher Alex Avila has confidence in the rotation in general, which also includes Anibal Sanchez, who finished with the best ERA in the American League, and Doug Fister.
“I don’t think it matters who’s going to be pitching what game,” Avila said. “We’re going to have a good chance to win that game whoever’s on the mound.”