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Leyland: Verlander on brink of greatness

Leyland: Verlander on brink of greatness

Leyland: Verlander on brink of greatness
TORONTO -- Tigers manager Jim Leyland is not one to make rash statements, but it was the way that Justin Verlander went about his no-hitter on Saturday that impressed him. He referred to it as a "calm no-hitter."

"That was as dominating a performance as I've ever seen," Leyland said. "It was almost a calm no-hitter. It was almost just like, 'I'm at work, I'm doing my job.' It was totally different from most no-hitters. You talk about a masterpiece -- that's dominant."

And he chose his words carefully as he talked before Sunday's game against the Blue Jays about how Verlander's second career no-hitter on Saturday could be a big step for him on the way to greatness.

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"From my perspective, I don't want to start getting dramatic -- because it doesn't work out that way sometimes -- but to me this could very easily be the game that turns his career from an outstanding pitcher to the next level," Leyland said. "And the reason I say that is in the five years and two months or whatever I've been here, it's the calmest I've ever seen his demeanor, by far. Not like a bull in a china shop, he was calm the entire game.

"He said he worked on that after the Yankee start [a May 2 no-decision]. He kept telling himself how calm he was going to be."

But there's more. "The second part of that equation is that there were only four strikeouts," Leyland said. "It says that you don't have to strike everybody to win games up here, or be a dominant pitcher. If he can take from what he did yesterday -- not so much from the no-hitter, but just the fact his pitch count was probably the lowest it's ever been. So that was a huge step for this kid yesterday. This could be the game that just elevates his career to the next level and he's already obviously an outstanding young pitcher."

"To be honest with you, it impressed me, too," Verlander said on Sunday. "To feel that calm and collected, I don't know that I've felt that way on the mound. Ever since my last start in New York, I made a conscious effort every day. I told myself, 'slow and methodical, go about your business. The first couple of innings, establish a rhythm.' The way I was able to do that, to be honest with you, it surprised me.

His fastball, which started at 93-94 mph, was clocked at 100-101 late in the game.

Verlander wore a patch on his right forearm where he was struck by Edwin Encarnacion's drive in the fifth inning. Verlander pounced on the ball to get a close out at first. He said he felt it more Sunday.

"Sore, it hurts, more so than yesterday," Verlander said.

"It's kind of an interesting game, because there weren't a lot of strikeouts," he said. "It's not like I was extremely dominating, but I kept guys off balance for the most part. I don't want to say those guys had comfortable at-bats. I don't think they were comfortable. They probably felt, hopefully, a little bit off balance the whole night. But it's not like the first one where I struck out 12 guys. I just kind of pounded the strike zone. Almost every guy in that lineup would say, 'I got a pitch I could have probably hit,' which was my point. I wanted to be aggressive, I wanted to go at guys. Obviously, the last few games, our bullpen has been taxed. I wanted to go deep in the game, and it worked out exactly the way I wanted it to. Obviously, I wasn't envisioning a no-hitter, but I was definitely envisioning eight or nine innings."

Said Leyland: "I like what he did yesterday, 93-94 [mph] and then when he needed to late, 100, 101, I mean that's pretty impressive. To me he's got the best stuff in the league, the best raw stuff. Now he's still got to mold that stuff into being the best pitcher."

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