LAKELAND, Fla. -- There's that moment for a pitcher when he releases a pitch he knows is bad, watching as it heads towards the plate, hoping the batter doesn't hit it but knowing it's probably headed out if he does. This was kind of one of those moments for Justin Verlander, and yet it was so much worse.
He didn't have command for the vast majority of his 61 pitches to the Mets on Monday, including the last. It was a fastball in to Jordany Valdespin, who had homered on Verlander's third pitch the day, and Verlander he had gotten it a little too far in.
Verlander did not know that Valdespin was going to square up his body and stand directly facing him as he let the ball go.
"He took a hack at the first pitch. He already hit one bomb," Verlander said. "And then the next one, he just totally squared at me, and I'm like, 'Oh God, this isn't going to be good.' Right out of the hand, it's like, 'Oh, [crap], that is right at his ... '"
The ball hit Valdespin in his groin, sending him to the ground in agony, right as it hit 94 mph on the Joker Marchant Stadium radar gun.
Not only had Verlander never done that before, he had never seen it. Nor had pitching coach Jeff Jones, who spent years working with wild pitchers at Triple-A Toledo before getting his shot in the big leagues.
Eventually, Valdespin was able to walk off the field, and manager Jim Leyland came out around the same time to pull Verlander. Once Ike Davis singled in two runs a couple batters later, Verlander had been charged with five runs on four hits over 4 1/3 innings. He struck out three batters, walked two, hit two more, and reached at least four 3-0 counts.
Verlander is usually good for a rough start every spring. His agent, Verlander said, calls him the Farmers Almanac because it usually falls on schedule. But this start was bad even by those standards.
"My rhythm was off, and that kind of led to everything," Verlander said. "Fastball control was not good. Changeup was bad. Slider was bad. Breaking ball was all right, which is odd."
Sufficient rest for Dirks a concern for Leyland
LAKELAND, Fla. -- The longer Spring Training rolls on, the less Tigers manager Jim Leyland talks about Andy Dirks as somebody to platoon, and the more he talks about somebody to rest on occasion.
Whether it's the end of the left-field platoon talk will be better seen at the end of camp, but it's likely the end of the lefty-righty platoon idea.
"Dirks hit .273 off lefties last year. It's not that I don't think Dirks can hit lefties," Leyland said. "It's just that I don't know if I can play Dirks every single day without resting him and getting him off the field for a few days, and I want to try to keep him going.
"I think he can play every day, but I think you have to be careful with him. I'm not saying he's not an everyday player. I'm just saying at this point, from what I've seen the last couple years, you have to watch that close and not get greedy. That's what I think."
Ideally, that day off would come against a tough left-handed starter, Leyland said. But that won't always happen.
"I think it's a possibility that Andy Dirks could get a day off against a right-hander if I think the danger zone is coming," Leyland said. "If you need to rest a guy, you need to rest him. It doesn't matter who's pitching. Preferably, you look ahead and see what the rotations are and you try to set it up so that you plan your days off for guys against a few things: One is when a guy's run down a little bit, and one is when there's a day off [already scheduled], and another is matchups."
The candidates haven't vastly changed, though top prospect Nick Castellanos now seems all but certain to open the season at Triple-A Toledo, barring injury.
"We've got a Rule 5 guy [Jeff Kobernus] we're looking at. We've got [Avisail] Garcia. We've got [Quintin] Berry. We've got [Brennan] Boesch. We've got Dirks. We've got a lot of guys," Leyland said. "I'm not worried about left field. Left field will take care of itself."
Allergic reaction sidelines Peralta on Monday
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Just as the Tigers were getting their roster back to full health, they lost Jhonny Peralta on Monday to a food allergy. Thankfully, it sounds more like a fluke mishap than anything that should linger.
"He ate clam chowder, and he's allergic to it," Leyland said.
The incident happened after pregame batting practice. Peralta was written into the lineup at shortstop, but he was scratched about a half-hour before first pitch. Danny Worth, who had been scheduled to start at third, moved over to short, with Matt Tuiasosopo entering the lineup.
According to Leyland, it was an innocent mistake, though he has no idea how it happened.
"He didn't realize it was clam chowder," Leyland said, "until he ate some of it and didn't feel too good and he went in the training room sick. I don't expect it to be anything of a lasting thing. I doubt that he'll be eating any clam chowder in the near future."
Tigers make cuts to ensure more playing time
LAKELAND, Fla. -- The Tigers sent back a handful of prospects Monday morning, whittling their camp ranks to 48 players. None of the players sent out were competing to make the team this spring, but a few of them made an impression.
"It's good experience for those kids to come in to camp," manager Jim Leyland said, "but playing time starts to get cut down for the younger guys. That's why we made the move. ... I like all these kids, but they need to go play."
Shortstop Dixon Machado and catcher Ramon Cabrera were optioned to Double-A Erie. It's a promotion for the 21-year-old Machado, who batted .195 at Class A Lakeland with slick defense, and an arrival for Cabrera, who was the return player in the trade that sent Andy Oliver to Pittsburgh. Cabrera is expected to share catching duties with James McCann with the SeaWolves.
Joining them at Erie will be Daniel Fields, who was assigned to Minor League camp Monday. He was a non-roster invitee to camp since he isn't on the 40-man roster. Fields spent the second half of last season at Erie and held his own, batting .264 in 29 games with two home runs, 13 walks and 21 strikeouts.
Fields was a corner outfielder at Erie down the stretch last season, but he is expected to be the SeaWolves' regular center fielder this year.
"He's a high school kid, has played a couple years now," Leyland said. "It takes time."
Right-handed reliever Melvin Mercedes, meanwhile, was optioned to Class A Lakeland, where some are hoping he can put together control on his upper-90s fastball and experience a breakthrough like Bruce Rondon last year.
"The big kid just has to learn a little bit about the art of pitching to go with his equipment," Leyland said.
Joining Mercedes in Lakeland will be shortstop Eugenio Suarez, who was assigned to Minor League camp. He heads across the street having made an impression with the big league camp, including a highlight stop and throw last Thursday against the Braves.
• Justin Verlander said he received text messages from his dad through the afternoon on Saturday, updating him on younger brother Ben, who hit three home runs for Old Dominion. "I'm so excited for him, man. That is so awesome," Justin Verlander said. "I called him the other night. He was kind of short about it, but yeah, he's been raking. He just committed himself to hitting. He came up last year and worked with our hitting coach, [Lloyd McClendon], and he says he feels great."
• Manager Jim Leyland said that Miguel Cabrera, Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez could rejoin the Tigers as soon as Tuesday following Venezuela's elimination from the World Baseball Classic. Neither Cabrera nor Infante are on the travel roster for Tuesday's trip to Clearwater to face the Phillies, but Leyland said that Sanchez might be scheduled for a simulated game on Tuesday. Both Cabrera and Infante will make one of the long trips the Tigers face at the end of the week, either against the Mets in Port St. Lucie on Thursday or against the Cardinals on Saturday in Jupiter.
• Backup catcher Bryan Holaday caught all nine innings of Tuesday's 11-0 loss as a way to get him at-bats. He had gotten just five plate appearances over the previous six games combined. Holaday went 0-for-3, but threw a runner out trying to steal second base.