Inside Pitch: Leyland Preps for Playoffs

With the Tigers now officially in the playoffs for the first time since the Reagan era, Jim Leyland needs to prep his team for the playoff run. And while he's still playing to win now, he's going to be testing players and making adjustments to ensure he's got the best 25 he can for the postseason.

Manager Jim Leyland showed Tuesday that he wants to win now -- and he wants to win later, too. Leyland is beginning to formulate his postseason pitching plans, saying Justin Verlander won't pitch again until the playoffs (Saturday was his turn) and he might not pitch Jeremy Bonderman on Sunday so he'll be ready to pitch any of the first three games of the playoffs.

Bonderman was limited to six innings Tuesday night in a 4-3 win over Toronto, just as he was in his two previous starts, both wins.

Leyland removed Bonderman with Detroit leading, 4-1, so he could give Andrew Miller an audition for possible inclusion on the postseason roster. Miller pitched to two batters, walking one and going 3-2 on the other before inducing a ground forceout.

The manager then brought Joel Zumaya in to complete the inning (two runs scored while he was on the mound, but he threw the ball well) before getting an inning each from Fernando Rodney and Todd Jones.

Leyland also ordered up a suicide squeeze, something that might be important in the postseason, and Placido Polanco executed it to perfection.

"It was a great win," Polanco said. "Just because we clinched the other day doesn't mean we're going to relax."

REPLAY: Placido Polanco drove in three runs, one with a suicide squeeze bunt, while Jeremy Bonderman turned in six solid innings Tuesday night to lead the Detroit Tigers to a 4-3 victory over the Blue Jays, and let them keep their one-game lead in the AL Central. Detroit needs any combination of four wins or Minnesota losses to clinch the AL Central; otherwise, they'll be the AL wild-card team. The Tigers remained tied with the Yankees for the league's best record.

Bonderman (14-8) gave up an unearned run, three hits and three walks while striking out four. He has won three straight starts after going 0-4 in his previous nine.

Rookies Andrew Miller and Joel Zumaya combined for a scoreless seventh, Fernando Rodney kept Toronto from scoring in the eighth and closer Todd Jones earned his 37th save for a scoreless ninth, which ended with a double play. Polanco grounded a two-out, two-run single in the second inning and put down a safety squeeze bunt in the sixth that scored Craig Monroe from third to give the Tigers a 4-1 lead. The Blue Jays pulled within a run in the seventh on Frank Catalanotto's single and when Alex Rios scored on a passed ball.

--RHP Jeremy Bonderman revealed a plausible reason for his recent so-so performances -- a bum right ankle.

"For a couple of starts, it was hard to push off, because it was really tender," Bonderman said. "It's still not 100 percent. It feels better. My last couple of starts, it's been a lot better. It's not me to use it as an excuse, so I won't even try. You've got to fight through things and play the game hard. It's one of those freak things that happens."

Bonderman said he injured his ankle when he tripped on a hose while carrying baseballs in batting practice.

Left-handers in particular had been hitting Bonderman, whose slider lost some of its bite. But he has now won three starts in a row to push his win total to 14.

He was limited to six innings Tuesday (as in his previous two starts) as manager Jim Leyland starts to formulate his postseason pitching plans. Bonderman's fastball had good late movement, as did his slider. He also mixed in some good-looking changeups.

Bonderman is on track to make his final start of the season on Sunday, but won't do so if first place is not at stake or if it would affect Leyland's postseason rotation.

--RF Magglio Ordonez was removed from Tuesday night's game against Toronto in the top of the third inning due to lower back spasms.

The soreness was not believed to be serious, but this late in the season, Detroit does not want to take any chances with its cleanup hitter. The postseason is considered more important than risking a prolonged injury, even though Detroit is battling Minnesota for first place in the AL Central.

Ordonez batted once and was hitless before being replaced in the lineup by OF Alexis Gomez.

--2B Placido Polanco has played in two games since coming back from a left shoulder separation and has five RBIs.

Polanco, who had a two-run hit Saturday in his first game since Aug. 15, grounded a two-run single up the middle in the second inning and laid down a perfect suicide squeeze bunt in the sixth to score LF Craig Monroe from third. Polanco has a nice, compact swing that lends itself to a quick effective return to action after a long layoff, something a big swinger would need more time to accomplish.

--LHP Andrew Miller wasn't quite as impressive as he needs to be Tuesday to make Detroit's postseason roster.

Manager Jim Leyland will only carry 11 pitchers -- four starters and seven relievers. One of his seven relief pitchers is expected to be rotation member LHP Wilfredo Ledezma. Miller is one of three pitchers vying for a spot.

Miller was brought in Tuesday to protect a 4-1 lead in the seventh, walked the first batter he faced and went 2-0 on the second before inducing a full count force-out at second on a ground ball to third. He was then removed in favor of RHP Joel Zumaya.

Leyland is expected to take another look or two at Miller in serious situations to see if his composure can measure up to the left-hander's upper-90s fastball.

--RHP Joel Zumaya was limited to an inning of relief Tuesday, probably so manager Jim Leyland can use him in consecutive games if needed. Zumaya struck out his 93rd batter of the season coming on in relief of LHP Andrew Miller in the seventh. He walked his next batter, gave up an RBI single and had another run score on a passed ball before getting out of the inning on a lineout to left.

Zumaya mixed in a couple curves along with his upper 90s fastball.

Leyland hasn't used him in back-to-back games very often, but might want to do so in the playoffs, and would like to know how effective Zumaya might be working 2-3 games in a row without a break.

BY THE NUMBERS: 100 -- RBIs by a Detroit batter for the first time since 2000 when RF Magglio Ordonez reached that mark with a two-run home run Sept. 21 in Baltimore.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Every pitcher's fatigued at this point in the year. It's a lot of innings. I'm not going to feel like I did in April. It's just the way it goes. But by this point in the year, I think my stuff is very capable of getting people out. If it weren't, I wouldn't be pitching." -- RHP Justin Verlander, regarding suggestions he's wearing down after exceeding his 2005 innings total by 50 entering his next start.

RF Magglio Ordonez left the Sept. 26 game due to back spasms. The injury was not considered serious.

2B Placido Polanco went on the disabled list Aug. 16 with a left shoulder separation. He took batting practice on Sept. 15, then said Sept. 17 that he was out for the season. He recanted that statement on Sept. 18, took batting practice, and was activated from the disabled list Sept. 22. He was back in the starting lineup Sept. 23.

RHP Roman Colon went on the disabled list Aug. 21 with neck soreness. He will miss the rest of the season.

RHP Craig Dingman has spent the entire season on the disabled list following heart bypass surgery in March.

Tigs Town Top Stories