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 Leyland sets new goal for starters

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PostSubject: Leyland sets new goal for starters   Wed Feb 13, 2008 7:26 pm

Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Leyland sets new goal for starters
Tom Gage / The Detroit News

Now the incremental improvement begins. With one substantial stride after another, as you know, the Tigers bettered themselves this winter. The long litany of all-stars in their lineup increased with the stunning additions of Miguel Cabrera and Edgar Renteria.


So as spring training begins with pitchers and catchers reporting on Thursday, the question isn't whether the Tigers will be good, but how much better than good they'll turn out to be.

For that reason, it'll be a spring like none the Tigers have had since they ended the 1983 season confidently and charged into 1984 not just hoping to contend, but knowing they would.

The big steps are done, though. It's as if, per the playground game, Simon said, "Take several giant steps forward," and they did.

But now the tinkering begins, the piecemeal progress brought about by a manager and coaches looking for ways to bring out the best in those who'll be on this team.

It starts with the five

In all likelihood, you probably think that means the bullpen, where many of the potential holes seem to lurk. The manager disagrees. In fact, if the Tigers can ask less of their relief pitchers this year, Jim Leyland believes it will contribute more.

Instead of on the bullpen, therefore, Leyland will direct his gaze on the starting rotation not with an outright demand, because that's not his way, but with a subtle expectation that will translate only as the good idea it is.

"I'm not as concerned with bullpen as much as everybody else is," Leyland said during TigerFest. "I think it's going to be fine.

"Assuming that Todd Jones is going to do another good job for us and Fernando Rodney continues to be a quality major-league pitcher, not a great pitcher, but a quality pitcher, I think those looking at the bullpen are probably looking at the wrong area."

Then what's the right area?

"We need to extend our starting pitchers more," Leyland said. "I think the big keys will be (Jeremy) Bonderman, (Nate) Robertson and (Dontrelle) Willis. If those guys can take you an extra out or an extra 2/3 of an inning, that's going to be the key to this team."

That simple.

Leyland knows his lineup is strong. Barring a complete breakdown of some sort, his team will score runs. Offense, and probably defense, won't be a problem.

And he's not thinking in terms of individual pitchers being problems, either. This is the broader view he's addressing.

"I'm not sure it's going to be as much the bullpen as everyone thinks," Leyland repeated for emphasis. "We need to get our starters to step up and get two more outs during the course of a game."

Instead of six innings, in other words, "go 6 2/3 ," he said

And those who were already going 6 2/3 , "go 7 1/3 ."

Doesn't sound like much, does it? Two more outs.

But it is. Two more outs from the starters, when considering the distribution of the pitching burden for an entire season, is huge. It basically means fewer bridges would be needed between the rotation and late relief.

A little adds up to a lot

Fewer set-ups for the set-up man, in other words diminishing that dangerous middle ground where the direction of a game can quickly be reversed. In Leyland's case, however, it also means fewer fretful cigarette breaks snuck between the sixth and seventh innings.

"A lot of people look at the 27th out as the biggest out of the game," he said, "but sometimes the biggest out comes much earlier than that.

"I think the sixth inning is the toughest to manage, at least it is for me, because you're in between your long guy and your set-up guy."

By virtue of what the Tigers have done over the off-season, meaning the bats they've added, Verlander believes there will be less pressure on the entire pitching staff.

"Pitching's a big part," he said, "but with the lineup we've got, it makes it a little easier. We don't have to put so much pressure on our shoulders. With our staff, though, we can do some great things.

"I think everyone's primed to have a good year. So I'm excited."

Jones is excited, too. He has already said the 2008 Tigers "on paper are the best team I've ever been a part of."

But he also knows the vaunted offense will need some assistance.

"We all kind of have to do our thing," said Jones. "We don't want to make any part of our team feel like they have to do it all because you get kind of messed up if you try to do that.

"Jim's really good about helping us to stay focused on what we need to try to do and just realize that we're going to have some room for error. These guys are not going to hit all season, so we're going to have to pitch at some point."

And last longer at some point.

Not much longer, just an out or two, but as Leyland said, an out or two while seeming small could be the biggest improvement of all.

“It takes pitching, hitting and defense. Any two can win. All three make you unbeatable.”    
–Joe Garagiola
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PostSubject: Re: Leyland sets new goal for starters   Thu Feb 14, 2008 2:09 pm

Let see if old Jim will let 'em get there!!
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PostSubject: Re: Leyland sets new goal for starters   Thu Feb 14, 2008 5:30 pm

bah, Captain Hook will still be counting pitches regardless of how well they are doing out there.
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