LAKELAND, Fla. (AP) - As far as Justin Verlander is concerned, St. Patrick's Day and spring training both ended a month ago.
The Detroit Tigers' ace is approaching spring training differently this year, pitching as if it were April instead of March. He said he plans to pitch one month ahead throughout the season.
Verlander pitched 5 1-3 innings of one-run ball in a 2-1 loss to the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday in front of a 10,307 at Joker Marchant Stadium - a record for the park that has hosted Tigers spring training for 75 years.
Verlander has allowed only two earned runs in 15 innings and said he wants to pitch as if it is the regular season, changing the approach that produced an 18-9 record with a 3.37 ERA last season.
``I'm getting a special feeling about this season,' Verlander said. ``This year, I wanted to try something new. I wanted to go after hitters and act like it's April. I am more mentally focused now and I am treating them like they are real games instead of practice. I am throwing my first pitches for strikes and trying to get ahead of hitters and I didn't do that (in previous springs).'
Verlander struck out five and walked none during his stint, though he did allow a long home run to Boston's Jacoby Ellsbury in the fourth inning. Verlander said the new approach to spring training has him mentally focused to start the season now.
``I like where I am right now,' Verlander said. ``Spring training runs a long time, but my head is in April and I am ready now. It's hard to conjure up intensity and trying to replicate the season. It's hard but that's what I am trying to do.'
Tigers manager Jim Leyland said he is noticing the change in Verlander this year even though he has won 37 games over the past two seasons.
``I see a pitcher on a mission,' Leyland said. ``He's trying to take it to the next level.'
Verlander said he is expecting big things from the Tigers this season. The Tigers struggled to a third-place finish and 81-81 record in 2010 after leading the AL Central in early July. From there, Detroit's season started to fall apart after a seven-game losing streak wrapped around the All-Star break.
Verlander was solid down the stretch, but he's confident that this season will be different.
``April will be May for me and May will be June. That's the approach I am taking,' Verlander said. ``We made changes that make us a better team and I am taking this spring seriously. I am locked in and the team and I are taking nothing for granted.'
Boston starter Daisuke Matsuzaka pitched five shutout innings in his first solid start of the spring. He entered the game with an 11.42 ERA, but allowed only two hits, striking out five.
``I was placing my pitches today,' Matsuzaka said through his translator. ``I was able to throw strikes. That's all I need to do.'
Darnell McDonald hit a game-winning 10th inning homer for the Red Sox. Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera slammed his second homer of the spring and boosted his average to .306 after a slow start.
Notes: Prior to the game, Tigers manager Jim Leyland said that 2B Carlos Guillen and RHP Joel Zumaya would not be traveling north with the team. Both are on the disabled list indefinitely and will remain in Florida. ... The Tigers sent 18 players to their minor league camp, including top pitching prospects Andy Oliver and Jacob Turner, along with 16 other players including Leyland's son, minor league prospect Patrick Leyland. ... Leyland said he talked with his pitching staff to emphasize the importance of throwing strikes. ``I hate to be blunt but I need to put pressure on them. I don't want guys who can't throw strikes.'
The Associated Press News Service
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