Leyland advises Verlander to ease up

Leyland advises Verlander

TORONTO -- Tigers manager Jim Leyland can sense the pressure that Justin Verlander is putting on himself. He could also see the power Verlander was trying to put on his fastballs Monday night. After Verlander opened the season by tying his career high with eight earned runs over 3 2/3 innings, Leyland talked about taking a little off on both.

"The biggest thing with Justin Verlander, in my opinion, I think he has to eliminate putting too much on himself to be the horse of the staff," Leyland said. "I think the other thing that is definitely, totally necessary is that he continues to stick with [pitching coach] Rick Knapp and do the things that he saw so much progress in Spring Training and not get away from it."

The latter shouldn't be a problem. Verlander talked after Monday's game about feeling like the adjustments are carrying over, though he knows he still has some work to do on them. The first part, the pressure, could be a little more tricky, but it's something Leyland continued to explain Tuesday. He also talked with Verlander.

"I think he's put a lot on himself that he doesn't have to put on himself, as far as carrying the staff," Leyland said.

Verlander's Opening Day assignment was his second successive one. The assignment usually carries with it the perception of a staff ace. Leyland is trying to get away from that, at least in terms of pressure.

"It sounds cold and maybe it is, but No. 1 guys aren't designated," Leyland said. "They're No. 1 guys because they pitch real good. Jack Morris was a No. 1 horse because he pitched, and that's what you have to do. And I think Justin Verlander has every bit of that capability to do that, but I don't want him to put it on himself so much. Just let it flow. Let your ability take you to that level. Don't make it a mind-set where you put extra pressure on yourself all the time."

Not until Verlander's fourth and final inning, Leyland said, did he seem to get out of form and start throwing the ball. At that point, Leyland pulled Verlander out of concern that he might hurt himself. Until then, Verlander had gone from fastballs at 96-98 mph in the first inning to 93-94 the second time through the Jays' lineup, a move Verlander made to gain some command and try to get quick outs.

"He's probably better off if he pitches at 92-93 [mph], maybe 94, than trying to pitch at 96," Leyland said, "because it's max effort, and I think his ball moves good. In those [Spring Training] games at Atlanta, he wasn't throwing that hard until he needed it. ... With the way he pitches, the assortment he's got, he doesn't have to pitch [at] max effort, in my opinion."

Verlander pitched at that velocity and struggled early last season, but that was before the adjustments he has made this spring to gain better command. It was also before Verlander made improvements to his other pitches.

"To me, I think Justin Verlander's got the best curveball I've seen since I've been here," Leyland said.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.