Justin Verlander Just In Case


If you were about to play what could be your last game of the season, would you use every weapon you had? If we are to believe Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland, he wouldn’t.

Leyland has repeatedly said he “probably wouldn’t use Justin Verlander in relief” in tonight’s Game Five against the Yanks, that it was “unlikely.” The press took this as “absolutely will not.” Earlier this afternoon, ESPN’s Buster Olney tweeted that Leyland was “emphatic” about not using the best pitcher in baseball this season in relief.

Does anyone believe this?

If it’s, say, the seventh inning, too early to bring in Jose Valverde, and the Tigers are leading, say, 2-0, and the Yankees have the bases loaded with two outs, and you could stall long enough to warm Verlander up and then hand to ball over to him, wouldn’t you do it?

Of course you would, and Leyland will, too. No matter what this afternoon’s warmups with Verlander indicate. Of course he will volunteer if the situation comes up and of course Leyland will say yes. In the words of John Maynard Keynes, “When circumstances change, I change my opinion. What do you do?” And the Yankees will do the same with C.C. Sabathia. (Though the Yankees’ doing that is more dubious since C.C. takes so much longer to warm up.)

One fact that should be encouraging to Yankees fans going into tonight’s game is that if it does come down to a battle of the bullpens, the Yankees have a significant edge. For the season, the Yankees were third in bullpen ERA, 3.47, with the Tigers eighth at 3.96. But that’s only part of it. In Cory Wade, David Robertson, and Mariano Rivera, the Yankees have three pitchers rested and ready who could each pitch two innings if called on. That’s three pitchers who pitched 166.2 innings with a collective ERA of 1.73.

Yes, if it comes to that, the Yankees could shorten the game to three innings.

Most of Detroit’s bullpen effectiveness is concentrated in Valverde, who yesterday was voted MLB’s Delivery Man of the Year. But was he really better than Mo? Let’s compare:

Valverde was in 75 games, pitched 72.1 innings, while Rivera pitched in 64 games, 88.1 innings. Jose gave up 52 hits, Mo 47. Jump ball. Valverde struck out 69 in 72.1 innings, Mariano 60 in 60.1. Again, jump ball. Valverde converted all 49 of his save opportunities into wins — which, let’s face it, is why he won the award — while winning two and losing four. Rivera was the league’s second best, saving 44 out of 49, winning one and losing two. That means in saves and wins, Jose was 51-4 to Mariano’s 45-7. Edge to Valverde.

But Rivera has a significant edge in ERA, 1.91 to 2.24. And, here’s the biggie: Rivera walked just eight batters to Valverde’s 34.

But the best relief pitcher in either bullpen tonight will be Dave Robertson. He may prove to be the key not only to this series but for the Yanks’ fortunes the rest of the way if they win tonight. Just look at his stats: 66.2 innings pitched in 70 games, just 40 hits and 100 strikeouts (against 35 walks). He was 4-0 in the regular season with a perfect mark in 41 “set-up” situations. His ERA was 1.08.

If the Yankees get ahead tonight and the Tigers threaten in the middle innings — and I’ll call the sixth and even the fifth middle innings — Girardi is a fool if he doesn’t bring out the “Hamma from Bama” and let him go two full innings. Then I’d take my chances with Wade, Rafael Soriano, a warmed-up Sabathia before bringing out Mo.

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