Are the Detroit Tigers overusing pitcher Justin Verlander? The ace right hander has been called on to pitch in three games of the 2012 AL postseason. He has gone at least seven innings in all of them, with Detroit winning each. In his last two outings Verlander pitched into the ninth.
As everyone knows, Verlander is that rare modern-day pitcher who takes the mound to go the distance. He does not care about throwing 100 or more pitches, and neither does his manager Jim Leyland. Verlander has learned to pace himself in order to have something left for the late innings. As with Tuesday night’s game three victory over the New York Yankees, if there is any doubt whether he comes out of a game Leyland leaves it up to Verlander.
This has worked to Detroit’s benefit so far. However, in the three games that Verlander has started he has thrown a total of 375 pitches. In game one of the AL Divisional Series against the Oakland Athletics, he pitched seven inning and threw 121. In game five Verlander went the distance throwing 122 pitches. Tuesday night it was 132 over 8 1/3 innings.
After three games, Verlander has given up a grand total of two runs. He gave up one in two games against the A’s and one on Tuesday against New York. This is almost unheard of in regular or postseason play.
The Tigers would like to see Verlander continue to dominate, but they must be careful. Three straight games of over 120 pitches are taxing on any arm during the season. It is much more taxing in postseason when arms are already fatigued from a sixth month schedule. Though he may be dominating now, the deeper Detroit goes in the postseason, the more it will wear on Verlander.
The Tigers are fortunate to be ahead of the Yankees three games to none. They can wrap up the series without pitching Verlander by simply winning one of the next three games. This would give him a chance to rest before pitching game one of the World Series. If he does not have to pitch a game seven, Verlander will most likely be penciled in to pitch games one, four and seven of the series, if necessary.
If Detroit can not finish off New York, Verlander would pitch game seven. This would add more pitches to his arm and make him unavailable for games one and two of the World Series. When he does finally pitch, it would mean 120 less throws for the Tigers to use.
There is no question Verlander will get the ball at least twice, and maybe three more times in the postseason. In October you ride your horse until it drops. This means there is a good chance he could throw over 700 pitches. He may do this in the cold of Detroit, New York, San Francisco or St. Louis.
It may show this October. It may not show until later. Sooner or later the toll of throwing so many pitches will get to Verlander.
It is something worth keeping an eye on as the Tigers go deeper into the post season.