Thursday: Verlander rounding into shape
Justin Verlander tossed four relatively easy, scoreless innings with four strikeouts five days ago and said he felt horrible warming up and in his first inning before settling in. This time, he gave up a home run with his third pitch of Thursday afternoon for his first run allowed all spring, but ended up feeling pretty encouraged with his outing.
“It was better today,” Verlander said. “I still didn’t quite get in the groove I want, but it was definitely better. Changeup was good, curveball’s pretty good, and fastball control was better.
“Threw too many pitches, had a bunch of strikeouts, but that’s going to lead to more pitches. They were 2-2 and 3-2 strikeouts as opposed to 0-2 and 1-2, so there were a few extra pitches in there that I need to cut down on a little bit.”
He made that point when asked if he took any satisfaction in striking out Endy Chavez on a called third strike after he homered off of him to start the game.
“It just cost me a few extra pitches,” Verlander said. “I wish he would’ve swung at the first one and hit a weak ground ball.”
The home run ball to Chavez, Verlander said, was an inside fastball. Verlander felt he hit his spot, but Chavez turned on it. The called third strike was an offspeed pitch that seemingly hit the inside corner as Chavez froze. It was one of many changeups and curveballs Verlander commanded well to get back into counts or finish off hitters once he got ahead.
He had some good fastballs, too, hitting 95 mph on the Joker Marchant Stadium radar gun, but command was in and out.
“I threw a lot of offspeed today, and it was pretty good,” he said. “So I’m happy with that.”
The fastball will most likely be a point of emphasis for him these next few outings — not the velocity, but the command. The radar gun readings will bump up as he gets closer to Opening Day, which he admitted is already on his horizon.
What we learned Thursday: Even at this point in his career, if Verlander executes a pitch, sometimes it still gets hit out.
What to remember: Sometimes the best signs of a guy’s strength at the plate don’t always come on tape-measure home runs. Delmon Young had a softly hit single in two at-bats, but it was a pretty good one. The pitch jammed him inside, but he was strong enough to get it over the middle infield and into shallow center. He’s 10-for-22 (.455) so far this spring, and about three of his hits have been nicely fought singles like that.
Also worth remembering: Austin Jackson went to full counts in all three of his plate appearances, including a 10-pitch battle with O’s starter Brian Matusz to start off the bottom of the first inning. Jackson reached base that time on an error from first baseman Chris Davis. He struck out swinging the other two times, raising his total to 10 strikeouts in 17 plate appearances so far this spring. He’s 6-for-13 when he puts the ball in play.
Hey, it’s only Spring Training: Verlander was asked if he could pitch nine innings if he had to in his next turn through the rotation. He answered yes, at least from an arm strength standpoint. Fortunately, he doesn’t have to.
The highlight play you missed: Miguel Cabrera’s backhanded stop and throw on Ronny Paulino’s sharp ground ball towards the line prevented a run on Verlander’s line. It was a nice defensive play for most third basemen, but Jim Leyland depicted it as humdrum.
“See, I thought that was routine for Cabrera,” Leyland said. “I’m not going to get into that every time Cabrera catches a ground ball, making a big deal about it. … That was a routine play for Miguel, in my opinion. It was a nice play, but it wasn’t anything other than a little bit more than a routine play. I’m not going to dissect that, because then you’re going to dissect, ‘Well, Cabrera made an error, Cabrera made …
“Cabrera’s going to catch ground balls. He’s going to throw guys out at first. He’s pretty good.”
Looking ahead: Rick Porcello’s tour of the Grapefruit League continues with his third road start in as many outings, this one a Friday afternoon meeting with the Mets in Port St. Lucie in a 1:05 p.m. ET start. His opposing starter will be familiar Tiger foe Johan Santana, who’s continuing his injury comeback with the Mets trying to recapture his prime years from his Twins day. Prince Fielder is among the Tigers listed on the travel roster.
To-do list for Friday: See how the Tigers do against a pitcher who still ranks among the game’s great lefty starters when he’s on. O’s lefty Brian Matusz had a very good outing in posting four scoreless innings and six strikeouts.
Did you know: Rick Porcello hasn’t thrown a pitch in a game at Joker Marchant Stadium this spring. His two starts have come against the Marlins in Jupiter and against the Phillies in Clearwater. By contrast, Verlander hasn’t thrown a pitch outside of Lakeland this spring.
Non-game note of the day: I have the weekend off, so the blog might not be updated a whole lot over the next few days. I’ll be working on some Opening Day preview stuff and watching some basketball. Come Monday, I’ll be back on the beat for the final two weeks of camp as we try to figure out the final roster spots.