Tigers stick with Avila-Verlander battery

Tigers stick with Avila-Verlander battery

Tigers stick with Avila-Verlander battery
SAN FRANCISCO -- Tigers catcher Alex Avila hadn't started against a left-handed pitcher since Sept. 1. Tigers starter Justin Verlander hasn't thrown to a catcher other than Avila so far in the right-hander's remarkable postseason.

When it came time for manager Jim Leyland to fill out his lineup card for Game 1 of the World Series at AT&T Park on Wednesday night, the latter won out.

"We just felt like the combination of Avila and Verlander [has worked well]," Leyland said on Wednesday afternoon.

World Series

Avila's start against Giants lefty Barry Zito was the one real surprise in the Tigers lineup. Though there had been some speculation that Andy Dirks would start over rookie Avisail Garcia, Leyland went for Garcia's right-handed bat against Zito, who allowed a .281 batting average and an .823 on-base plus slugging percentage to right-handed hitters in the regular season.

By contrast, Zito held left-handed hitters to a .209 average and a .559 OPS during the regular season. Thus, the 21-year-old Garcia was starting in right field on Wednesday night, about seven weeks after making his Major League debut.

Normally, both Garcia and Dirks would be starting in the corner-outfield spots against a left-hander. With no designated hitter in a National League park, though, Delmon Young had to shift into left field for his first start there since August.

"It's not a perfect world," Leyland said. "If you want to get Delmon Young's bat in the lineup, you've got to play him [in the field]. It's pretty hard to leave the MVP of the ALCS on the bench."

Both Avila and Garcia went hitless against Zito. Two of the six hits surrendered by Zito came from Austin Jackson, who hit worse against left-handers than righties during the regular season.

Most likely, Garcia will be in right field again for Thursday's Game 2 (7:30 p.m. ET air time on FOX, 8:07 ET first pitch), when the Tigers will face another lefty in Madison Bumgarner. Gerald Laird, a right-handed hitter who had been behind the plate every time the Tigers faced a lefty starter this postseason, will most likely catch Game 2, though Leyland wouldn't commit to that after the 8-3 loss in Game 1.

"I'm not going to get too excited," Leyland said. "When I go back to my office when I'm through speaking with you folks, I'll take some time to think about tomorrow."

If Laird had caught Game 1 as well, that would've left Avila catching Saturday's Game 3 after 10 days of rest.

"That's one thing," Leyland said. "I think the other thing is he's had a very good rapport with Justin Verlander. He's caught him 23 times this year, as opposed to nine for Laird. Alex has caught every game in the postseason.

"I don't think that the offensive difference would sway you enough. ... I don't mean this as a criticism, because Gerald has done a great job. But if you thought you had a real offensive catcher from the right side, you'd probably do that. But I think when the numbers are what they are, I think this is a good time to slip Alex in there. So when I weighed all those factors, I thought this was a good day to play Alex."

Laird has hit right-handed pitchers better than left-handers this year.