Jim Leyland, Justin Verlander

Decision to pull Verlander pays off for Jim Leyland

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Sending Justin Verlander back out to pitch the ninth against the Yankees with a 2-0 lead in Tuesday’s Game 3 was pretty much a no-brainer. It’s not like manager Jim Leyland was going to turn to Jose Valverde. 115 pitches is a pretty high total to be starting an inning with, but Verlander has been there before.

At that point, the ideal would have been for Verlander to finish his two-hit shutout at 125-130 pitches. The Yankees, of course, refused to go quietly in the ninth. Eduardo Nunez battled for eight pitches and then sent a hanging curve over the wall in left. 124.

Brett Gardner didn’t reach, but he too extended the reigning AL Cy Young and MVP. He tapped out to Verlander on the eighth pitch of the at-bat. 132.

That total tied Verlander’s career high for a regular season outing. He threw 132 pitches in 7 2/3 innings against the Red Sox on May 29, 2011 and again in striking out 14 Yankees in eight innings on Aug. 6 of this year. In all, he’s had four regular-season outings of 130 pitches, 20 of 125 or more and 47 of at least 120.

Verlander’s career high for a postseason start was 133 pitches in Game 5 of the 2011 ALCS against the Rangers. He also came in at 121 and 122 in his two starts against the A’s in the ALDS earlier this month.

So, letting Verlander carry on in the ninth would have put him into uncharted territory. And the truth is that Verlander wasn’t at his best in this one, even as he was racking up zeroes against the Yankees. He struggled all night to get ahead of hitters, and the fact that it took him 17 pitches to get one out of the ninth suggested he was done. That Phil Coke had pitched so well in the series and that the Yankees lineup was stacked with lefties made it an easier call for Leyland.

And Verlander didn’t seem broken up about it after the game. While he suggested he would have preferred to carry on, he also talked about how saving him for the rest of the postseason was important.

But I don’t think that was it. I think Leyland saw those last two at-bats against Verlander and thought Coke was his best option to get those final two outs. Otherwise, it probably would have been Verlander and that 140-pitch barrier be damned.

All worked out in the end, though not before Coke made things very interesting by giving up a pair of singles. Now it all goes well from here, Verlander will make his next start on seven days’ rest in Game 1 of the World Series.

Astros avoid arbitration with Mike Fiers

SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 17: Starting pitcher Mike Fiers #54 of the Houston Astros walks to the dugout after pitching an inning during a game against the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field on September 17, 2016 in Seattle, Washington. The Astros won the game 2-1. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)
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The Astros avoided arbitration with pitcher Mike Fiers, agreeing on a $3.45 million salary for the 2017 season, per Jake Kaplan of the Houston Chronicle. The right-hander was in his first of three years of arbitration eligibility.

Fiers, 31, made 30 starts and one relief appearance for the Astros in 2016. He finished the year with a 4.48 ERA and a 134/42 K/BB ratio in 168 2/3 innings.

Fiers had a much better showing in 2015 as well as in limited action in 2014, so the Astros are hoping he rediscovers that effectiveness going forward. He’ll slot into the back of the starting rotation.

Raines to wear an Expos cap, Pudge to wear a Rangers cap on their Hall of Fame plaques

1990:  Outfielder Tim Raines of the Montreal Expos in action. Mandatory Credit: Otto Greule  /Allsport
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There is little if any controversy to be had about the caps this year’s inductees will wear on their Hall of Fame plaques, but in case there was any doubt at all, it was put to rest this afternoon at the Hall of Fame press conference: Tim Raines will wear a Montreal Expos cap and Ivan Rodriguez will wear a Rangers cap. Jeff Bagwell, of course, never played for a team other than the Houston Astros at the big league level.

Though Raines had some good seasons with the Chicago White Sox and though he helped provide a nice kick start to the Yankees dynasty in the mid-1990s, his best seasons, by far, took place while he was an Expo. It’s also the case that the bulk of his Hall of Fame push came from Expos fans. He was particularly boosted by Jonah Keri, who recently wrote a book detailing the history of the Expos. So, yeah, that’s easy.

Rodriguez played 13 of his 21 years with the Texas Rangers, including his MVP 1999 season. He did have some notable years elsewhere, particularly in Detroit where he remains a fan favorite, but it was always going to be the Rangers for him, one would think. Maybe a slight, slight chance that he’d do the blank cap thing, Greg Maddux-style, but smart money was on the Rangers.

With Bagwell, the only question is which Astros cap he’ll wear. There are a couple of applicable ones: the brick red star, which he wore to the World Series in 2005. There’s also the shooting star cap he wore during his best seasons and which Craig Biggio’s plaque displays. He was around for the classic “H” over the star look, but he was just a kid then, so I doubt he’d wear it.

Anyway, sorry to the Marlins fans who wished that Raines and Pudge would wear the fishy-F.