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Verlander masterful against Braves

Verlander masterful against Braves
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Justin Verlander, named the opening day starter before Friday's game, pitched like one in seven shutout innings.

He took care of the Atlanta Braves in quick fashion, needing only 75 pitches. Verlander gave up two singles and one walk and struck out three.

"He's got three above-average pitches," Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland said of Verlander's fastball, curveball and changeup, "and when he gets them all over, he is one tough hombre."

As inflating as Verlander's performance was, matching Tom Glavine zero for zero on the Champion Stadium scoreboard, the late-inning relief pitching was just as deflating.

Fernando Rodney allowed two runs on two hits in the eighth inning to tie the score, and Brandon Lyon walked the leadoff batter in the ninth before back-to-back singles by former Tiger Omar Infante and Martin Prado made the Braves 3-2 winners.

It was the second consecutive bad outing for Lyon and the third consecutive struggle for Rodney. The two closer candidates are faltering, although Lyon has a dependable track record with the Arizona Diamondbacks to offer as hope.

"Justin Verlander has stepped up," Leyland said. "It's time for some other guys to start stepping up."

Verlander joins Jeff Weaver (2001-02) and Mike Moore (1993-95) as the only Tigers to start back-to-back openers since Jack Morris did the honors in 11 in a row, 1980-90.

Leyland made official what had been assumed for a while. Verlander is penciled in to start April 6 at Toronto, and Edwin Jackson is scheduled to go the next day against the Blue Jays.

Armando Galarraga is expected to pitch the third game in Toronto or opening day April 10 in Detroit against the Texas Rangers.

Leyland said adjustments made with new pitching coach Rick Knapp have helped Verlander get back on track. After going 17-9 and 18-6 his first two full seasons in the majors, Verlander was 11-17 in 2008 with a career-high 4.84 ERA.

The manager credits the rapport Verlander has developed with Knapp while acknowledging the difficult situation of last year's pitching coach, Chuck Hernandez.

"Justin was reluctant to change because it had always worked," Leyland said. "But he needs to be tweaked, and Rick has done a good job of tweaking him."

Author:Fox Sports
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Added: March 30, 2009

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