DETROIT -- Justin Verlander has no shortage of historic stats and honors on his resume, including two no-hitters. One of the few things he lacks in his illustrious career is a base hit.
If manager Jim Leyland can help it, Verlander won't be trying to break his hitting slump with a home run in the World Series. For that matter, Leyland would rather none of his starting pitchers get caught up in swinging for the fences.
They took their swings Sunday afternoon in batting practice at Comerica Park, and they'll take some more Monday. But what Leyland wanted them to focus on was contact, at least advancing a potential runner.
"The emphasis is really on bunting, and the emphasis is really on having a short stroke and hit the ball up the middle," Leyland said. "Don't try to hit the ball up the middle, because you're going to be wasting your time if you do. If you're going up there with the delusion you're going to hit a home run in the World Series, you're wasting your time swinging like that. You're not going to do too good."
The only pitchers taking batting practice, Leyland said, are the ones scheduled to start in the National League city. Justin Verlander and Doug Fister are slated to start Games 1 and 2, so they hit. So did Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly, two starters turned relievers who could be needed if one of the starters is scratched from the rotation or pulled early.
Valverde back on mound, pitches in scrimmage
DETROIT -- Jose Valverde spit out water left, right, then in front. He took a skip-step, slapping his cap on his knee, then started his trek from the bullpen to the mound.
In the playoffs, those antics usually garner a roar of cheers at home, or a thunderous round of boos on the road. On Sunday, they drew nothing. The Comerica Park stands were empty, aside from a handful of team officials and a scattering of fans peeking in from the other side of the outfield concourse.
Also, it was the first inning.
For Valverde, this was his return to game action for the first time since his four-run ninth inning in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series, eight days earlier. For other Tigers relievers, this was their first game appearance in nearly that long. For the rest of the players, it was their first game since they clinched their spot in the World Series on Thursday night by sweeping the Yankees.
It was called a scrimmage that included players from their fall instructional league, but it had a simulated-game feel. Valverde's inning ended with two outs when he reached his pitch count, having allowed a run on two singles and a walk. He struck out Austin Jackson, who did not swing at any of his pitches, and retired Delmon Young.
The catchers, including Alex Avila, called balls and strikes on their own with no umpires around. Don Kelly played first base for one side, then would leave his glove on the field so that Danny Worth could use it when he played first base for the other side.
Avila homered into the Tigers' bullpen off prospect Drew VerHagen, then did a U-turn around first base and headed back to the dugout.
The seven-inning affair wasn't about keeping score, but keeping guys fresh. The bats looked a little rusty, which was kind of the point of having the game in the first place. Valverde was wild, but he settled in. Joaquin Benoit, who also hadn't pitched in eight days, also delivered an inning. Octavio Dotel pitched an inning, then fielded ground balls from infield coach Rafael Belliard while the game stopped.
Instructional league pitchers filled some of the other innings, but so did Luis Marte and Darin Downs, two Detroit relievers who had been throwing in instructional ball to stay fresh in case an injury in Detroit required a roster move.
It felt a little like Spring Training, save for the weather, but the intent was similar. It wasn't as intensive as an actual game, but it was much better than simple batting practice.
"I like that we're doing this," outfielder Quintin Berry said. "This is huge. I think this is a very smart thing to do, get out here and get work in, not just sit around here and wait."
When someone asked manager Jim Leyland if he would've rather had only one day off before the World Series, he laughed.
"Let me tell you something, buddy," Leyland said. "When you sweep the New York Yankees, I don't give a care if you wait three weeks to get to the World Series. I'm not that good to say, 'Hey, fellas, don't win it today. Let's hold on two more days, then we'll win it.'"
Fister, Sanchez, Scherzer to follow Verlander
DETROIT -- Tigers manager Jim Leyland was asked Sunday if the National League pennant winner would influence how he ordered his rotation. He responded by putting his rotation in order.
"There's no secret to my rotation. My rotation is going to be [Justin] Verlander, [Doug] Fister, [Anibal] Sanchez and [Max] Scherzer," Leyland said. "There's no secret to that, unless they're scouting this simulated game."
It's the same order the Tigers used in their American League Division Series against Oakland, and a similar setup to what they used in the AL Championship Series to watch the innings on Scherzer after his shoulder scare last month. Once again, Scherzer would be the only one of the four guaranteed not to get a second start.
If that order sticks, a potential Game 7 start would fall to Sanchez, who would be eligible for free agency just a few days later.
Verlander, whose rough inning in the All-Star Game has been blamed by many for the NL having home-field advantage, will start Game 1 in the National League city and potentially Game 5 in Detroit.
Leyland loving warm reception from Tigers fans
DETROIT -- How quickly things can change. From fans calling for manager Jim Leyland's head, the Tigers' skipper is now being kindly received around the city, given that Detroit is on its way to the World Series.
As the Tigers prepared for Sunday's scrimmage at Comerica Park against instructional league opponents, Leyland told a few stories about his interactions with fans the day before.
He met a pregnant woman and her husband Saturday morning, then randomly bumped into the woman's father Saturday night. But it was his story about a wedding party that was most interesting.
"I was downtown and there was a wedding going on, and I stopped in the bar to watch the rest of the Michigan-Michigan State game," Leyland said. "And there was a lot of wedding parties there. ... They asked, 'Can we get a picture?' So I ended up taking pictures with all of them.
"I'm on every Twitter and every Facebook in the world today with some bride that got married [Saturday] night. And they were really nice people."
Leyland said he was even asked by one bride's father to come to the reception. However, he refused to take attention away from his daughter, the same way he tries not to take the attention away from his players.
"I said, 'No I cannot come up to the reception and have a drink. This is your daughter's night. I am not coming up to the reception. This is her day,"' Leyland said. "Then later on that night, I ran into him and he says, 'Thanks for being so nice and so patient.'"
It's a different reception than the skipper's probably become accustomed to. After all, it was just last month that a Tigers fan was holding up a "Fire Leyland" sign in Chicago that Miguel Cabrera had to take away.
"It's so nice. I'm running into people all over," Leyland said. "Even one guy said, 'I'm so sorry for getting on you all year.' He said, 'You guys did a great job. I apologize for being mean to you all year.' I said, 'Who are you?' No, no. It's neat. It's great."
In scrimmage, reliever Downs reunites with club
DETROIT -- Darin Downs spent most of the season's second half pitching in relief with the Tigers. His last win was one of the biggest of the season for the ballclub, allowing it to overcome Max Scherzer's early exit.
So as he appeared in the Tigers' dugout Sunday afternoon for the first time in nearly a month, it was a reunion. It wasn't the way he wanted to be pitching in October, capping a run in instructional ball with a couple scrimmage appearances to stay fresh. Still, for his first big league stint to be on a potential World Series champion, he isn't about to complain.
"It's been a great experience for me this season, my rookie season," Downs said. "I'm grateful for everything I've gotten so far."
Downs pitched an inning in Sunday's scrimmage. He said he spent his instructional league stint throwing more in side sessions than in games, just to keep up the workload and better simulate the potential relief work he would face if he were to be activated.
Leyland said that Phil Coke apologized Saturday for the accident that left Leyland with a gash on his head, having bumped it on a champagne bottle as Coke was pouring champagne on him during Thursday's celebration. "I told him, 'If you save four more games, you can slice my head open,'" Leyland said.
With Young moving to left field for the first two games of the World Series, since the Tigers won't have a designated hitter, Leyland indicated Andy Dirks would most likely keep his starting job in right field for those games against a right-handed starter. Quintin Berry would be available on the bench as a defensive replacement or pinch-runner.