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Oct. 15 Jim Leyland off day interview

Q.  Jim, you played well so far.  How much do you find yourself thinking about what's gone your way compared to what still needs to go your way?

    JIM LEYLAND:  Well, we're just kind of relaxing and finally getting a day off here.  We had some tough travel lately.

    We know what's in front of us yet.  I don't think we think that something is behind you; you think something is in front of you.

    We need to win a couple of games.  We are focused on trying to win the game tomorrow.  It is not easy.  Hughes pitched good against us during the season, really pitched well, and Sabathia the next day, and I assume Pettitte after that.

    It's not going to be easy.  We are really thinking of tomorrow's game, but today everybody is a little bit tired I think today.  We had some really tough travel lately.  Today we are hanging out, taking it easy.

    Q.  Jim, I was wondering if you have further thoughts about who your closer is going forward in the series or if you are still playing it on a game by game basis?

    JIM LEYLAND:  I am just going to play it out and see what happens, see what kind of match up there is.  Like I said yesterday, I still consider Valverde the closer.  It's just a matter of have a conversation and see how he is feeling and see what the pitching coach thinks.  We obviously are going to need him.  We will wait and see how the game plays out and go from there.

    I certainly    other than Valverde, still the closer for the most part, I don't really have another set closer.  Like I used Phil Coke last night.  Find out who they have coming up, who the match up will be, probably go from there.

    I am hoping that Valverde in the very near future is ready to take back over.  As I said, that is pretty important that we have him.

    Q.  Jim, obviously everybody focused a lot on your starting pitching and how good it's been.  How much do you think in the postseason maybe advanced scouting and maybe the ability to sort of focus on hitters' weaknesses and clamp down on them a little bit more factors into things, or is it just a case of talent rising to the top?

    JIM LEYLAND:  Well, I think obviously you try to have a game plan.  The Yankees know our hitters.  We know the Yankees hitters.  It is not a perfect report, obviously.  Sometimes when guys are really swinging good, it doesn't really make any difference, they are just hot.  So you hope you catch a team that is not swinging good at a particular time.  And that combined with the fact that you've got pretty good pitching, they're making good pitches, usually equals some success.

    So I think it is a combination of all things, to be honest with you.  I think it's normally    I know during the season, not so much now, because you know the Yankees are going to break out here at some point.  That is just a matter of fact.

    So during the season I always talk about it is not so much who you are playing, it is when you are playing them.  And we're just hoping we can keep the Yankees from swinging the bats too good the next few days.

    But you are certainly concerned about it because they are just too good.  They are too good of hitters and you know they will break out at some point.  You just try to shut them down to the best of your ability and scratch out a few runs.  The runs are pretty much at a premium so far.

    Q.  I want to go back to the closer question.  From a broader perspective, a lot of closers have had their struggles in the ninth inning during this postseason.  And I mean there's been a lot of drama and dramatic finishes.  I wonder if you had any thoughts on what might be leading to one closer having a tough time and perhaps so many comebacks in the late inning dramas in the playoffs here.

    JIM LEYLAND:  That's a great question, to be honest with you, and I don't really know that I have a perfect answer for you.  I just think the pressure is really great and they have usually been nip and tuck situations, which they usually are for a closer, so they're used to handling that, but for whatever reason a lot of things get magnified in the postseason.  You know, a blooper here, a blooper here.

    The thing that has always been misleading about a closer is everybody talks about a closer, he comes in and gives up three line drives that are all caught.  The next day he comes in and he gives up two bloopers and a base hit.  They say the one day he did a great job and the next day the bloopers beat you, so he did a terrible job.

    I think you just have to weigh a lot of things.  For instance, the hit that Garcia got yesterday wasn't off a closer, but it was a blooper over Teixeira's head and picked up a run for us.

    I don't really know.  I just think there is certainly a lot of pressure, and it's easier grinding out those at bats the whole way through now.  There are some times during the season when somebody is beat down a little bit.  It doesn't mean they aren't trying, because they are.  But it's postseason.  They are grinding these at bats like they have never grind them before and it makes it a little more difficult.

    So it's amazing, but you're right, there have been several closers that have struggled.

    Q.  And a quick follow up, perhaps those of us with shorter memories aren't thinking back far enough, but does it seem to you that there is more dramatic games, more late inning lead changes than previous postseasons?  Does it seem to be a high amount of wild finishes this year?

    JIM LEYLAND:  There has been that, and there's been a lot of changes too, a lot of pitching changes.  What you see in the postseason, it becomes a little different.  If you watch what went on so far, a lot of the postseason they had starting pitchers in there, the Giants brought Lincecum in, they had Jackson in for Washington.
    It is a different situation when you get to this postseason.  And for whatever reason, teams have been coming back.  The Washington Cardinal game was really unbelievable.  I couldn't imagine that.  But it seems to kind of be a weird postseason, to be honest with you.  And I really don't have any specific explanation for it.

    Q.  I was looking back at some of the bullpens of the past in Pittsburgh, where you had the mix and match with some guys in the past.  And you look on this season not the same as midseason, but happen to have guys work through struggles, how do you compare what you and Jeff Jones had to do with the bullpen this year compared to past years?

    JIM LEYLAND:  When have you a definite closer and setup guy like we had most of the year this year, it does change some things obviously.  It makes it a little bit easier.  When you have to mix and match, I can do that.  I am not afraid to do that.

    We have to make sure we get Valverde straightened out.  So you do what it takes to win the game.  Whatever you think is your best option, that's what you do.

    Q.  Jim, you've talked about this before, but how much    you guys in the building the pitching staff and part of your lineup, too, did a lot of it through some trades.  How much do you appreciate the work that Dave has done and how he's been willing to maybe be a little fearless in giving up prospects when he had a chance to win?

    JIM LEYLAND:  Well, the one thing I always appreciate about Dave, he is not afraid to make a change for better, for worse.  I give him credit for that.  He is not afraid.  He has no fear when it comes to making a trade.

    But I think where it all starts    and certainly I don't want to slight Dave, because he is the one that makes them, but I think where it all starts is your scouting director and your farm system, guys that have done a good job not only signing players but developing players in the Minor Leagues.  Those are the things that gives up the access to go ahead and trade for something at the Major League level.

    I think it is a combination of our scouts, our farm system, and the great job of Dave and not being afraid to make a deal or give up a prospect.  And I think it is a ground floor thing that works its way up to the top.

    Q.  If you guys had had a bigger lead in the division in July, do you think you would have still wanted to add a pitcher like Sanchez?

    JIM LEYLAND:  Well, I think so myself because if you have the big lead, then obviously you think you have a great chance to go to postseason, and you know that the postseason is about pitching.

    So personally it wouldn't have been necessary maybe because everybody would have been looking at the fact that it looked like presumably we are in the playoffs, but I think if you're thinking    I don't know what Dave's answer was, but I think if you are thinking down the road during the postseason, I think you know how valuable the pitcher is.

    So preferably I would have said yes.  Not necessarily to get there, but if you really want to take some steps forward in the playoffs, then I think that's a big thing.

    Q.  And related to that last question from me, people have talked    especially here in New York, there has been a lot of talk about the Yankee hitters.  There are always two sides to that:  There is the hitters, what the hitters are doing, and what the pitchers are doing.  How much do you think their lack of hitting in the first two games is based on the way your pitchers have been throwing?

    JIM LEYLAND:  I think it is a combination of both.  I think we pitched very, very well.  I am very pleased.  But I think it is very unlikely if we got in a situation like we did the other night with Swisher that we'd get out of it with nothing.  I think he put on a clinic, and I think it would be almost impossible to do it again.

    And I think we pitched very good, and we've made some quality pitches.  I also think when they got a few pitches to hit, they just missed them.  We have done the same thing.

    That's what happens with all teams when you are not hitting, somebody is pitching good against you with nasty stuff and you get one to hit and you foul it back or pop it up.

    It is a combination of things.  I don't want to take anything away from the pitcher, because it has been very good.  And I am nervous about this because you know the Yankees are going to break out.  They are just too good.  Particularly in that ballpark.  To get a shutout like we did yesterday in that ballpark, that is unbelievable.  That doesn't happen with the quality of hitters they've got.

    Believe me, we are not feeling real comfortable yet, I can tell you.

    Q.  Jim, you talked about Verlander and his performance against Oakland being maybe one of his best you have ever seen, I think.  Aside from talent, what allows this guy to sort of embrace the moment and step up in the big spots?

    JIM LEYLAND:  I think it's totally    beyond his stuff, I think it is totally maturity level.  I think he needs to learn to caress the pressure.  That's very important.  He's not as fidgety as he would have been a couple of years ago, much more comfortable in that situation than he was.

    And there is a lot to be said for a horse, but it is hard to be a horse, too.  It is hard to be a horse mentally, in my opinion, because the expectations are so high.  And the thing with Justin, he has matured so much as a pitcher.  He figured out different ways to get people out without overexerting himself, but still has some in the tank if he needs it.

    I think a lot of it is how you handle this stuff mentally, to be honest with you, and I think he has grown leaps and bounds in that area.

    Q.  On Verlander, anytime he throws under 120, 130 pitches the number gets noted.  Do you think there is too much focus on pitch counts in the industry?  Do you look as Justin as proof that it is good to give guys more leeway?

    JIM LEYLAND:  I think, to be honest with you, what we are talking about here, the pitch count really became a big thing when you start talking about long term contracts and high salaries.  Let's face it.  Let's just tell the truth about it.  And it became such a big thing because the investments are so big in these guys now, you want to make sure you protect your investment for as long a period of time as you can.  And I think that's common sense.

    But I think the pitch count thing can be overrated.  But I like somewhere around 120.  I think that's a walk in the park.  We were talking the other night that Justin Verlander in the Oakland game probably could have thrown 140 pitches.  We weren't going to do that, but he was going to go 130 if we needed it.

    So I think it is overrated.  I think it is just another of the new fashion that's coming to the game.  Everybody talks about it.  Big emphasis on it.

    But I do think there is some substance to the fact you want to protect your investment when you sign a guy like that for a long time.  You want to make sure you get your money's worth, just like any other business.  I think it is a combination of all of those things.

    Q.  Just staying on the Verlander theme, two things.  One, is it possible he actually has stepped up his game since the last time out?  And, secondly, speaking to your feeling of going into tomorrow, how good does it feel to have him be the guy on the mound in the situation that you're in?

    JIM LEYLAND:  Well, you know, I mean, you always feel good.  A lot of our guys    obviously he is at the top of the class, but I think I feel good about him because I think the maturity is so much greater than it was a couple of years ago.  And I don't worry about the pitch count in the last game.  He seemed to tune it up pretty good.  I think when he gets focused in like he was in that game, he will be ready to pitch this game.

    I don't think pitch counts or    I think he is even better, yes, I do, to answer the basic question.  I think he is better, but I think it is because of experience.  When you have a talent, the combination of talent and experience like he has, that's a pretty good combination.  And I think the experience part of it has really helped him.

    And I always talk about for good experience I like talent, which I do.  But when you have talent and you have a guy that is talented and learns how to use the talent and channel everything, it makes him that much better.  And I think he has grown leaps and bounds.

    Q.  I was thinking back about Justin and his no hitter in Toronto, and after that game the thing I remember the most is how you said he's got it now.  You watch, he's going to go on a roll.  And he hadn't been good in the season up to that point.  Talk about what you saw in that game, besides obviously he had great stuff and he pitched great.

    JIM LEYLAND:  I think that when you go into the ninth inning with a no hitter, that's special.  When you haven't completed many games, that's pressure to complete that ninth inning, to get the complete game.  Those are all experiences, things that at some point you have to go through.  And sometimes your first trial run you just don't make it because you're not quite sure.  You are too hyper, too antsy, you want to get the third out before you get the first out.

    And I could see that day he was totally locked in.  And that's what I truly believe, and I think I have seen that since then.

    Q.  One thing about your catcher, sometimes they are overlooked.  The job that Alex and Gerald have done, can you talk about their contributions to the pitching staff and your offense?

    JIM LEYLAND:  Well, Alex's offensive year hasn't been as good.  Gerald had a nice year of keeping innings going.  He got a huge hit in Kansas City in the clinching game.  But they both have done a tremendous job behind the plate.

    And I thought Alex called one of the best games I have seen him call yesterday in New York.  He was tremendous. Him and Sanchez got on a roll, and I thought it was one of the big keys to the game.  I know Sanchez shook off a few times, but for the most part they were on the same page.  And Alex called one of the better games of his career.

    They take a lot of pride in their approach to the opposing team's hitters and having a game plan and sticking with it.  And when there is disagreement, they talk about it before they make a dumb mistake.  And overall they have just done a terrific job for us.

    Q.  Lost in all of this talking about the pitching has been the play of the defense and the stellar plays, in particular of Peralta.  Can you talk about what your defense has given you so far this postseason?

    JIM LEYLAND:  Well, that's a great point.  I said yesterday in my postgame press conference I think Peralta's playing better than he has all year.  I think he's moving better.  He made some terrific plays early on in this American League Championship Series.

    So, yeah, we played well.  I mean, Jackson has played well, Infante had the one little miscue, Prince is picking balls out of the dirt and Miguel is playing well, and Alex threw a couple of guys out.

    One of the big keys is Peralta.  I think he is playing better than he has all year.