One of Jim Leyland's strengths as a manager is getting mediocre players to perform better, getting good players to become very good and getting stars to become superstars.
He finally got Justin Verlander to quit trying to throw every pitch 100 mph and try for easy outs early in the game. That has helped transform Verlander into a guy who goes minimum six innings and throws 100 pitches start after start. And led him to the Cy Young and MVP Awards last year.
When Miguel Cabrera came over in a trade from Florida in 2008 one of the first things Leyland did was to work on him to battle every single pitch of every single at-bat. He saw what Cabrera has become: a Hall of Fame player with another half-dozen seasons of 30 home runs and 100 RBI.
One of Leyland's current projects is getting Max Scherzer to capitalize on his tools -- upper-90s fastball, sharp slider and a changeup that has nice dip to it.
"He's just scratched the surface," Leyland said. "He's a guy with a big, big future."
Scherzer won a team-best 13th game Tuesday night, striking out eight to take over baseball's strikeout leadership and allowing just one run on a solo home run. Going back to May 10, Scherzer has 12 wins in his last 15 decisions and his 186 strikeouts this season are a career best by two.
Confidence, he says, is not an issue.
"When I go out there," he said. "I know I can get hitters out. I don't fear a single batter. When I'm on my game, I think I can beat any team."
He's throwing his slider to left-handers now and throwing both the slider and changeup in two-strike counts. Something that has hurt him in the past didn't bother him against Toronto. He gave up a home run and single to start the sixth but threw a double-play grounder to smooth over that potential pothole.
"He looked poised, he looked confident," Leyland said. "He didn't get upset. He looked in total control. He's blessed."
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