05/08/11 7:50 PM ET
Leyland: Verlander on brink of greatness
By Larry Millson / Special to MLB.com
"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.
"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."
Verlander celebrates no-no with steak dinner
TORONTO -- Justin Verlander celebrated Saturday's no-hitter with dinner at a downtown steakhouse with some teammates -- and he picked up the tab.
"I had a great night," he said Sunday morning before the game against the Blue Jays. "We went to Barberians. It was fantastic."
Alex Avila, who was his catcher for the game, along with pitchers Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer, infielder Don Kelly, and the team's video man, Jeremy Kelch, were among the group.
"To be honest, the thing I'm going to remember is having dinner with those guys," Verlander said. "It was a pretty intimate setting, not a lot of guys, just a small group. It's probably the best dinner I've ever had. It was amplified by the evening."
Verlander had filet. "I'm a filet connoisseur," he said. "Some of the wine we were drinking that I was ordering, I don't think I could make those guys pay for that."
He called his mother on Saturday night, and again Sunday on Mother's Day.
He said his family was in Delaware watching his brother pitch for Old Dominion and went to dinner after while he was pitching the no-hitter.
"I don't know the whole story, I don't know if they told my Mom what was going on, but they didn't really talk about it," Verlander said. "They were watching on their phones, which had to be the most nerve-wracking thing, I couldn't imagine. I watched my brother pitch on the computer when I was at home in Florida, and it's nerve-wracking as [heck] because you can't tell what's going on until it pops up on the screen and it finally loads. I can't imagine watching a no-hitter on that thing."
Avila was not catching Sunday. He said Saturday was one of those nights he did not want to end. There was some applause in the restaurant when the players entered.
"Those times are the best, when you can just enjoy something like that, celebrate something as historical as a no-hitter with people you care about," Avila said. "It was a good time, a good meal. It was definitely the best steak and the best wine I've ever had."
Avila making habit of going deep for Verlander
TORONTO -- Almost lost in the shuffle of Justin Verlander's no-hitter Saturday is that the Tigers scored early runs in their 9-0 win over the Blue Jays.
And one of the two home runs the Tigers hit was by catcher Alex Avila. It is something they had joked about the day before the start.
"We were joking the day before yesterday that I was probably going to hit a home run because most of my home runs have come when he's been pitching," Avila said.
Avila has six home runs this season -- four in games that Verlander has started -- but not all when he was still in the game.
Manager Jim Leyland had said on Saturday morning that he'd like to see his team score some early runs to give his pitchers a chance to relax.
"It's definitely tough for the pitcher, knowing he has to go and shut them down," Avila said. "You want him to relax a little bit and get settled into the ballgame. It was good to get early runs. Toronto, they're an aggressive team, they can put runs on you in a hurry. You can miss it in a blink. It was good to get those early runs. We've been kind of in and out with our offense."
"I think I've talked about it a couple of times this year, that I'd like see us jump out on somebody once in a while," Leyland said. "And see what our pitchers would do if we gave them some cushion every once in a while.
"And yesterday we finally did that, and I thought it relaxed Justin a little bit. If we've got one run or two runs, you know you're pitching a no-hitter, but you're also trying to win the game . You're trying to keep them off the boards. So I thought that was huge yesterday. Hopefully we'll see a little bit more of that."
Jackson rakes with pink bat on Mother's Day
TORONTO -- There was magic in center fielder Austin Jackson's pink bat on Sunday.
Jackson had two singles and the tiebreaking two-run homer in the seventh inning as the Tigers beat the Blue Jays, 5-2, at Rogers Centre.
The young outfielder was using one of the special pink bats that several players employ on Mother's Day, and there was little question who was going to get the souvenir of his big day. It will go to the person it goes to every year -- his mother in Denton, Tex.
"My Mom gets it," Jackson said. "Every year, I write a little something on there and send it to her. She's the one who brought me into this world, so it's definitely special to make this day for moms."
Catcher Alex Avila, who caught Justin Verlander's no-hitter on Saturday, didn't play Sunday, so he couldn't use his pink bat.
He swung with it last year on Mother's Day, though. "Yeah, I used it last year," Avila said. "No hits, but I don't think it had anything to do with that.
"After the game I autographed it and gave it to my Mom, and she was thrilled. She told me that it was one of the best things that she could think of that she'd like for Mother's Day. She loved it."
Larry Millson is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.