Friday, April 1, 2011

Haunted by the Ghosts of Tigers Past

This title is appropriate in a couple different ways. The first is the most obvious, and we'll get to that in a minute. Poor Justin Verlander remains winless on Opening Day. He's now up to three no-decisions and a loss. However, he did look better than he normally does in April. Most of his problems came early, when he threw thirty pitches in the first inning (of course, it doesn't help when the strikezone is moving all over the place; I don't think anyone, Tiger or Yankee, pitcher or position player, was happy with the strikezone). It looked like he had Mark Teixiera struck out, and instead it was called ball four. He then proceeded to walk A-Rod and then went to a full count on Robinson Cano before blowing a fastball by him. It looked like he kept missing up with his fastball, and finally paid for it when Mark Teixiera parked one of those high fastballs into the right field seats for a 3-run homer. After that, Verlander got rolling and looked very good. Hey, it may be cliched, but the Yankees are still a good offense that make you throw a lot of pitches. I'll take six innings and three runs against that lineup anytime, especially considering the weather was less than ideal. The problem started once the bullpen came in. Phil Coke was brought in to face Curtis Granderson (our first ghost of this story), fell behind 2-0, and his subsequent fastball down the middle didn't come back. Almost every Tigers fan remembers that Granderson had a lot of trouble with left-handed pitching when he was a Tiger (save for the 2008 season, when he hit a respectable .250 against lefties) and he started out his Yankees career with the same problem. I'm told that he improved against lefties once their hitting coach did major surgery on his swing. Baseball-Reference doesn't do joint splits against lefties and righties in the first half versus the second half, so I'll have to take their word for it. The other runs scored thanks to combinations of errors, sacrifices, wild pitches, and bloops. As far as the other ghosts are concerned, well, each instance only lasted a split-second, but there was a dugout shot where I mistook Verlander for Armando Galarraga and another dugout shot where I mistook Brennan Boesch for Jeremy Bonderman. This makes no sense, since Verlander looks nothing like Galarraga and Boesch looks nothing like Bonderman. Also, it's not some sort of grieving process thing because I'm not exactly in mourning for Bonderman. But when you tie it in with Granderson's home run, there did seem to be some haunting going on.

The offense seemed to continue what I observed in spring training: Taking three or four baserunners to score one run. There wasn't exactly a power show (although Brandon Inge was robbed by Granderson on what looked like a sure double), but there was a great deal of manufacturing. Jhonny Peralta didn't have a single RBI during the spring, but he got the first RBI of 2011 with a sacrifice fly. Brandon Inge had an RBi single and Miguel Cabrera also had a sacrifice fly. Cabrera was pretty decent at the plate, although Brandon Inge's throwing error in the seventh led to him getting hit in the bare hand. He was messing with his finger for the rest of the inning, although there was no mention of it in any postgame interview, so hopefully it doesn't swell up or anything during the off day. There was a lot of griping about how Alex Avila looked bad at the plate, but I think it's a bit premature to burn him at the stake. Last time I checked, CC Sabathia and Mariano Rivera weren't exactly pushovers. We'll see what happens further down the road.

Now that we've been teased with real baseball, we have to sit through an annoying off-day before we get to watch more. Brad Penny will get his first start. His numbers against the Yankees aren't all that good, but he hasn't really faced them that often. While Penny is trying to bounce back from injury, his former teammate AJ Burnett is trying to bounce back from a bad year. I once heard Burnett described as being able to strike out ten and walk ten in the same game. Jim Leyland has said that Brennan Boesch will start this game, but he hasn't said who he's replacing in the lineup (whether it's Raburn or Avila).

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