Verlander ready for bounce back year to begin

Posted at 7:50 PM, Apr 04, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-04 19:50:35-04
MIAMI -- Giancarlo Stanton is excited about the revamped outfield wall at Marlins Park, and not just because the changes make it easier for him to hit home runs.
It'll be easier for him to prevent them, too. The Miami Marlins right fielder is now taller than the 6-foot wall behind him.
"We're going to have some dang fun out there and rob some homers," Stanton said. "It'll be cool and a new dynamic."
The new dimensions will be tested Tuesday when the Marlins open the season against Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers.
The center field wall was moved 11 feet closer to home plate and is now 407 feet away. Much of the outfield fence was also lowered.
Marlins Park has been pitcher-friendly since it opened in 2012, and Wei-Yin Chen hopes it stays that way. The Marlins newcomer is making his first opening day start.
"I've been called a flyball pitcher," he said through a translator, "but I don't want to think about it."
Verlander is more of a strikeout pitcher, but he's trying to bounce back from a subpar season. The former AL Cy Young Award and MVP winner made only 20 starts because of injuries and went 5-8 with a 3.38 ERA.
Verlander didn't pitch until June last year and watched the Tigers' 2015 opener from his home in Lakeland, Florida, which he said was "a little weird."
He said he's anxious to kick things off this season.
"No matter how many times you do it, there's always that excitement, anticipation, the not knowing what's going to happen," Verlander said Monday. "You really just want to get out there and deliver that first pitch. Once that is out of the way, things are about as calm as they can be."
Like most teams, the Tigers and Marlins go into their opener brimming with optimism. Detroit added Justin Upton and Jordan Zimmermann in the offseason, while Miami's most notable additions are Chen, new manager Don Mattingly and new hitting coach Barry Bonds, who is back in the majors for the first time since retiring in 2007 as baseball's steroids-tainted home run king.
Chen was a surprise choice for the opening day assignment over ace Jose Fernandez, but the Marlins are counting on the durable Taiwanese left-hander to be a workhorse. He made 117 starts in four seasons with Baltimore before signing an $80 million, five-year contract with Miami.
"I came here and tried to interact with everybody here," Chen said through a translator. "Luckily we have a great manager, great coaches and very nice teammates, so everything was easy for me. I'm very happy they trust me for the opening day start, and I'm really happy to be a part of this team."
At 30, Chen is one of the oldest players in the roster.
"I will be happy to be with all these young players who will help make me feel like I'm still young," Chen said.
Miami's starting lineup includes Stanton, 26, left fielder Christian Yelich, 24, center fielder Marcell Ozuna, 25, shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, 25, and catcher J.T. Realmuto, 25, and second baseman Dee Gordon, 27, who won the NL batting and stolen base titles in 2015.
All return from last year's team that lost 91 games -- the Marlins' sixth consecutive losing season. They haven't been to the playoffs since 2003, the longest drought in the NL.
Mattingly, who led the Dodgers to the playoffs each of the past three years, said he joined the Marlins in large part because of the chance to help their young players develop.
"It's all about taking the next steps, right" he said. "With these guys, are we going to get better and better, or this is it?"
The Tigers have a big payroll and are eager to show 2015 was an off year after four consecutive division titles. The Marlins are widely expected to improve on last year's record, but their payroll is modest as usual, and few anticipate they'll challenge the Nationals or Mets in the NL East.
"I like the pressure being off," Gordon said. "It's better to sneak up on people."