MINNEAPOLIS -- Justin Verlander has made four starts since picking up his velocity in the opening inning. When pitching coach Jeff Jones suggested it, manager Jim Leyland knew he could have some tough calls to make when Verlander's pitch count rose, because Verlander would be throwing more pitches at more intensity.
Saturday was one of those days for him.
Leyland was second-guessing himself Sunday morning for his decision to pull Verlander one batter into what became a four-run eighth inning, but it wasn't the second-guessing you would expect. It was the opposite.
"I think I messed up yesterday, to be honest with you," Leyland said. "I probably should've taken Verlander out after the seventh, just started fresh with somebody."
Leyland wasn't going to let Verlander top 120 pitches, but he had Verlander at 111 going into the seventh. The problem with Verlander, Leyland said, is that hitters foul off a lot of pitches against him.
"That's the way I do it, for better or for worse," he said. "I'm going to try to always protect him, if I can."
Another factor Leyland cited was the potential for a division tiebreaker game Thursday, which Verlander would start if needed. With that game still in play, there's no guarantee yet that Verlander will start on extra rest. If the Tigers win American League Central outright, Verlander will get a couple extra days of rest before Saturday's Division Series opener against the Yankees or Rangers.
Even with a 6-0 lead at that point, Leyland was going to go to Joaquin Benoit at that stage as his main eighth-inning reliever, though he usually prefers to let Benoit begin an inning. Leyland admitted Sunday that the out-of-town scoreboard played a role in that decision.
"He's our best guy in the eighth inning on our team, without question," Leyland said. "I put him in because, when you see that scoreboard and you know Chicago's gonna lose, I can't lose that game. I can't mess around and take a chance. You might've brought [Luis] Marte in and he might have gotten three straight outs, but I can't lose that game."
They seem like opposing factors, going to Benoit in an all-out effort to win but not letting Verlander go past 120 pitches with the same goal.
"I learned a long time ago: There's no perfect players, and there's no perfect managers," Leyland said. "You make decisions based on what you think. I was hoping he could cruise through that eighth inning and pitch somebody else in the ninth, but he got in a little trouble there."
Miggy's Triple Crown pursuit going down to wire
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Tigers spent long enough riding Miguel Cabrera's back this month. For one day, Cabrera returned the favor.
As the Tigers celebrated their 2-1 win over the Twins Sunday at Target Field, Cabrera jumped on Prince Fielder's back like he was looking for a piggyback ride. It seemed fitting after Fielder's two-run home run made the difference.
Cabrera's chance at the American League Triple Crown has left Fielder overshadowed for most of the stretch run. To Fielder, however, it isn't overshadowing at all.
"It's supposed to be on him," Fielder said of the spotlight. "It's the Triple Crown he's got. That's Miguel Cabrera. The attention is supposed to be on him, all of it."
Cabrera still has the Triple Crown in his sights despite an 0-for-3 performance Sunday. At this point, though, Josh Hamilton's home run total might not be the biggest of his challenges.
Joe Mauer's three hits Sunday raised his average to .323, just two points behind Cabrera for the AL lead. Mike Trout and Adrian Beltre were both close behind. In fact, the AL's top four hitters for average are within four points of each other heading into the final three games of the regular season.
The good news for Cabrera is that his final three games will be in Kansas City, where his .352 career average is his second highest of any AL Central road park. Cabrera is 9-for-26 at Kauffman Stadium this year.
Scherzer feels good after latest throwing session
MINNEAPOLIS -- Max Scherzer threw again Sunday morning, this time a 10-minute session from about 100 feet with all his pitches. He came out of it feeling pretty good about his readiness for this coming week, whether he starts Wednesday for the regular-season finale or next weekend in an American League Division Series game.
"Everything went well," he said. "I was able to go to 100 feet pain-free, threw all my pitches and had a feel on all of them."
As long as Scherzer feels fine on Monday, with nothing more than normal soreness, he'll throw a full bullpen session in Kansas City before Monday's game. That will be the key to determine whether he's be ready for Wednesday, because it was in last week's bullpen session that Scherzer felt pain in his right shoulder.
Scherzer said he's "more optimistic" about Wednesday than he had been a couple days ago. That doesn't mean he will pitch Wednesday, but he's feeling better.
"I'm getting close to being able to pitch in a game again," he said.
Manager Jim Leyland has already said that the only way Scherzer would pitch Wednesday's regular-season finale is if the division race was riding on it. Leyland also said Sunday morning that he's not going to push Scherzer to start if he isn't throwing at full strength.
"We're not going to pitch him if he doesn't have his velocity," Leyland said.
Scherzer said he'll "let a few go" in his bullpen session to see how his arm feels doing so. But they're not going to put a radar gun on him.
If the Tigers have clinched the AL Central by then, Drew Smyly will start, allowing Scherzer to prepare for an ALDS start instead. He still might get some game action, though.
"I think we're going to kick the tires on several ideas on how to get me to full strength for the playoffs," Scherzer said. "But I do feel confident of being 100 percent for the playoffs."
Leyland praises Fielder's choice on Saturday
MINNEAPOLIS -- Justin Verlander's seven-plus innings of dominant pitching and home runs from Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera played a huge role in Saturday's 6-4 win over the Twins. However, manager Jim Leyland cited Prince Fielder's throw to third to get the lead runner on Jamey Carroll's sacrifice attempt as one of the biggest plays of the game.
The throw across the infield erased Trevor Plouffe following his leadoff double and prevented a potential RBI situation. It also provided an example of how Fielder's decision-making on defense sometimes gets overlooked.
Fielder leads all American League first basemen with 11 errors, but he also leads them in assists and putouts. One factor in that is more opportunities, because he plays so many more games than most first basemen. Part, though, is awareness.
"He was cheating up for him because he might push a bunt," Leyland said. "We caught a lucky break, because he happened to hit it right to him. When he caught it, he was in a position to throw. It was a great play.
"You know, Prince Fielder is a very instinctive player. Nobody made a big deal about that play [Wednesday] to hustle to get to second base. This guy's a smart player. He's a pretty instinctive player. It's been impressive. He's sharp."
The Tigers have seen a baserunner called out this year for interfering with a popup even though he was standing on second base. They've seen Quintin Berry taking off for third base without a pitch being thrown to try to prevent a runner for being called out on appeal for missing third base on his way home. And, of course, they've seen Brayan Villarreal miss a tag play at the plate because he thought he had a forceout on a strikeout/wild pitch.
For those reasons and others, Leyland sees a rulebook session coming next Spring Training.
"I think, if I manage again, I truly believe that next spring, I'm going to have about three days a week, just about 15-minute sessions on the rulebook for the players," Leyland said. "And I don't know why I haven't done it before."
Bryan Holaday's wife gave birth to a baby boy on Saturday, their first child, soon after the Tigers catcher arrived in Texas, where Holaday and his expanding family live. Holaday is expected to rejoin the team in Kansas City for its series against the Royals.
Verlander's win Saturday gave him at least 17 for the fourth consecutive year and the sixth time in his seven-year Major League career. He's the only Major League pitcher to do that in this stretch. CC Sabathia entered this season with five straight 17-plus win seasons, but he won't get there this season.