Verlander pitches Braves backwards
No, Justin Verlander didn’t physically pitch backwards against the Braves Sunday. But when his heavy dose of heaters early prompted Atlanta’s hitters to go looking for it, Verlander changed course and began mixing in different pitches, including nine straight offspeed pitches at one point in the middle innings.
Verlander’s first 11 pitches of the game were fastballs to Martin Prado and Brooks Conrad, topping out at 99 mph in the opening inning. All 10 of his second-inning pitches were fastballs, as were 11 of his 14 pitches in the third. Once the Braves put up their damage on him in the fourth and fifth, all but one of the pitches they hit were fastballs.
Starting in the fifth inning, Verlander and catcher Gerald Laird began making adjustments.
“They were looking for his fastball,” Laird said. “A lot of teams see him and dial in on his heater. Today, we just started trying to pitch backwards a little bit. I think he was able to get some guys out and get them off the fastball and then, when we were able to go to the fastball, he was beating them. We’re just trying to change it up a little bit. They were being real aggressive with his fastball.”
Said Verlander: “It was kind of a reaction to the situation we got in. In the fourth and fifth, after we scored a bunch of runs, I’m trying to go out there and not [say], ‘Here it is. Hit it,’ but make quality pitches and have them put it in play and hopefully have some quick innings so I can get real deep in the game. But I wasn’t making quality pitches, and they were putting them in play, but they were base hits. Then I got in situations where I had to go to my offspeed stuff more than I would have liked.”
It probably wasn’t as much as Leyland would’ve liked, at least early on. After Leyland was ejected from the game, he watched the game on TV from the clubhouse and could concentrate on Verlander and what he was doing mechanically.
“When you’re watching the game as a spectator, I can see it on the monitor. You can see him flying off,” Leyland said. “That’s what we’re talking about with him. He just has to continue to work like the sixth inning. He made it look real easy — real smooth delivery, easy inning for him. But I was worried from the first inning on, because the first inning he was laboring already. That’s not good.
“I think the other thing that I’ve talked to him about, still convincing him about it: I think he’s got to get away from throwing 95 percent fastballs in the first inning. When you get into situations, I think it’s OK to use your other pitches in the first inning. When you come out of the bullpen, I think it’s important to be prepared to throw some other pitches besides fastballs in the first inning. I know you want to establish your fastball, but that doesn’t mean you just pump one right after another.
“But he’ll be fine. He’s a horse. He showed why he’s a horse today. That’s pretty hot out there, plus he had to go through a grueling inning. That’s not an easy day to pitch. But that’s why he’s a horse. He came through. We needed it.”