Tigers manager Jim Leyland surprised many on Wednesday when he said staff ace and presumptive American League Cy Young winner Justin Verlander will not be available out of the bullpen for Game 5.
Verlander threw a 56-pitch side session in the Tigers bullpen on Thursday afternoon. He told ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney that he had double-checked with Leyland before starting the session to make sure he would not be used later.
Barring an unforeseen setback, Yankees manager Joe Girardi said CC Sabathia will be ready to pitch -- if needed - - on Thursday night.
"I would expect that I would have him," Girardi said during his Wednesday news conference.
Girardi cautioned that he would have to check with Sabathia on Thursday before making a final decision. Sabathia made it clear that he expects to pitch if he's needed on Thursday.
"I'm definitely available," Sabathia told ESPNNewYork.com's Andrew Marchand late Tuesday night after the Yankees' 10-1 Game 4 win.
Leyland may not be using Verlander out of the bullpen, but he's got another starter who he thinks can get the job done -- Max Scherzer.
"Scherzer is my Sabathia tonight," the veteran manager said shortly before Thursday's game. "And I'm going to use Scherzer. But I'm not going to use Sabathia; I am not under any circumstances."
Leyland said Scherzer will be the first pitcher out of the bullpen on Thursday if Detroit needs a long man. The 27-year-old righty tossed six shutout innings to earn the win in his Game 2 start in the Bronx last Sunday.
Sabathia has plenty of experience pitching on short rest. He has taken the mound seven times on three days' rest or fewer (regular season and postseason included).
Both Sabathia and Verlander pitched Monday night in Game 3. Verlander threw 120 pitches in eight innings in the Tigers' 5-4 win. Sabathia threw 106 pitches in 5 1/3 innings.
The two aces also opposed one another in Game 1 last Friday. Sabathia threw 27 pitches over two innings before the game was suspended due to rain. Verlander tossed 25 in one inning.
Leyland said prior to Verlander's Game 3 start that he didn't expect to have Verlander in Game 5.
"I probably would rather not do that," the veteran manager said. "But Game 5, you'd probably do just about anything -- but not at the expense of hurting any pitcher, let alone one like that."
Verlander has never pitched out of the bullpen in his career. Prior to his Game 3 start Monday following Friday's rainout, Verlander had never started a game on fewer than four days' rest.
But before Game 3, the ace hinted that he hoped to be available for Game 5. He suggested lightheartedly that he might force Leyland into letting him pitch in the decisive game.
"Maybe I'll just go down to the bullpen," he said. "I know he won't let me. I've tried too many times before. He always says no and gets mad at me. If I go down there, and maybe if he sees me warming up, maybe he'll think differently."
Doesn't sound like it.
Girardi expects to have all of his relievers and starters available. Closer Mariano Rivera, who has thrown just three pitches the entire series, will be available for multiple innings. Even A.J. Burnett, who threw 81 pitches over 5 2/3 innings in Game 4 Tuesday, should be able to pitch in an emergency situation.
Ian Begley is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.