Verlander stifles Twins in season opener
MINNEAPOLIS — Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers are restocked for a run at another World Series.
Some cold air at the start of the season wasn’t about to deter them.
Verlander won on opening day for the first time in six tries, striking out seven over five shutout innings at frosty Target Field, sending the defending American League champions past the Minnesota Twins 4-2 on Monday.
“When I was warming up in the sun, I was like, ‘I could have come out in short sleeves. This isn’t that bad.’ As soon as the shade set in, it was a totally different ball game. It was miserable,” said Verlander, who gave up three hits and two walks.
With the game-time temperature at 35 degrees and the wind blowing at 17 mph, fans had to bundle up. But opening day is always a draw, as evidenced by the announced crowd of 38,282, officially a sellout by Twins guidelines.
“We got one under our belt, and what I’m happiest about the temperature is going to be in the 50s on Wednesday so that will be a little bit better for both teams,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.
With Verlander’s $180 million, seven-year contract that could keep the right-hander with the Tigers through 2020 only a few days old, Leyland took the safe route by removing him after those five dominant innings.
Doubles by Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau were the only signs of resistance by the Twins, who haven’t beaten Verlander (1-0) since April 27, 2010. The former AL MVP and Cy Young winner, who threw 91 pitches, is 8-0 with a 1.71 ERA in nine starts during that span.
“I argued a little bit and tried to get back in there, but I understand,” said Verlander, who had four no-decisions and one defeat in five previous openers.
Leyland described the move as a “no-brainer” to remove his ace so soon.
“I’m not going to do anything silly. There’s no question in my mind that was the best move to make for the Tiger organization,” Leyland said, adding: “He’s a little more secure than I am, but I’m going to make the decisions.”
First baseman Prince Fielder, wearing a black ski mask on his head, had two hits and an RBI to help spoil Vance Worley’s first start for the Twins, who left 12 runners on, including the bases loaded in the seventh.
Phil Coke got the last two outs for the first save by the Tigers’ closer committee that’s succeeding Jose Valverde, who became a free agent and is still unsigned. Drew Smyly gave up a run on a wild pitch in the sixth inning and another on an RBI single by Ryan Doumit in the seventh, but Al Alburquerque struck out Trevor Plouffe and Chris Parmelee to finish that inning and strand three men.
“We did just what we told everybody we were going to be doing: We mixed and matched,” Leyland said.
The Twins struck out 12 times. They also left two runners in scoring position in the sixth when Fielder made a slick scoop of shortstop Jhonny Peralta’s one-hop throw from the hole to barely beat Pedro Florimon on an inning-ending grounder.
“We had our chances. Just couldn’t get ‘em in,” Mauer said.
In conditions that favored the men on the mound over the players at the plate, Verlander struck out rookie Aaron Hicks in each of the center fielder’s first three at-bats. Skipping Triple-A to face a pitcher like Verlander is a tough transition, even for the 14th overall pick from the 2008 draft. Hicks took a walk in his last at-bat.
“We did some good things out there. It was a fun ballgame. Unfortunately we didn’t come up with one more big hit,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said.
Worley (0-1) worked sleeveless for his Twins debut and first AL appearance, completing six innings with eight hits, three runs and one walk. He struck out three. The right-hander, acquired in the trade that sent speedy outfielder Ben Revere to Philadelphia, needed 24 pitches to finish the first inning. Fielder followed an RBI grounder by Miguel Cabrera with a double down the left-field line that stretched the lead to two.
The big-swinging, power-hitting Tigers looked more like a small-ball team on this day. Whatever works, when the weather makes it hard to get a hit, let alone hit a homer.
Torii Hunter, in the unfamiliar No. 2 spot in the batting order, marked his Tigers debut with a hit-and-run opposite-field single that keyed a two-run first. Jhonny Peralta stole second base to put himself in position to score on Omar Infante’s single in the second.
After Fielder led off the eighth inning with a single, Andy Dirks laid down a textbook sacrifice bunt to advance the runners. Fielder scored later on a wild pitch by Josh Roenicke to make it 4-2.
“I couldn’t feel my hands,” Hunter said. “I was closing my eyes and swinging.”
Notes: The Tigers have won 16 of their last 20 games at Target Field since Sept. 2, 2010, outscoring the Twins 117-81 in that stretch. ... After taking Tuesday off, the teams resume the series Wednesday with RHP Kevin Correia making his debut for the Twins opposite Tigers RHP Anibal Sanchez.