May 31st, 2014

Saturday’s lineups: Tigers at Mariners

Seattle 014

Standard lineup again for the Tabbies against 6-foot-10 right-hander Chris Young. As you can see, not a whole lot of this lineup has faced Young, who broke into the big leagues in 2004 but hasn’t had a full season in the Majors since 2007. Surprisingly, Brad Ausmus never faced him.

The Mariners, not surprisingly, are going heavily right-handed against Drew Smyly, whose lefty-righty splits are more extreme now than they were in more limited time last year.

“He’s tough on left-handers. This year they’re hitting .122 off him. That’s hard to ignore,” M’s manager Lloyd McClendon, clearly familiar with Smyly, told reporters today. “I’m just trying to put as many right-handers in there as we can and hopefully we’re successful with it.”

Gameday | TV: FS Detroit, MLB.TV | Radio: 97.1 FM, AM 1270, Gameday Audio

TIGERS (career numbers off Chris Young)

  1. Ian Kinsler, 2B (0-for-2, K)
  2. Torii Hunter, RF (2-for-4, HR, walk)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B (1-for-9, 3 K’s)
  4. Victor Martinez, DH (0-for-3, 2 K’s)
  5. Austin Jackson, CF
  6. Alex Avila, C
  7. Nick Castellanos, 3B
  8. Andrew Romine, SS
  9. Rajai Davis, LF (0-for-1, walk)

P: Drew Smyly

MARINERS (career numbers against Smyly)

  1. Willie Bloomquist, 2B
  2. Endy Chavez, CF
  3. Mike Zunino, DH
  4. Justin Smoak, 1B (1-for-3)
  5. Kyle Seager, 3B (1-for-4, double, K)
  6. Stefen Romero, RF
  7. John Buck, C
  8. Cole Gillespie, LF
  9. Nick Franklin, SS (0-for-1, K)

P: Chris Young

How Verlander got his fastball back

The pitching Justin Verlander delivered Friday night against the Mariners suggested he got back to basics — no quirks, no new strategies, just pounding the zone. For Verlander, it was an inning-by-inning approach.

He felt good throwing between starts, but he was also wary of the big inning that had crippled him a few other times this month. Thus, he didn’t allow himself to let off.

“You just ride the flow of the game,” he said. “You just see how things are going. You never know when things can turn at this level. Things happen quickly. You can’t let your guard down for one second.”

The result was some of his best numbers this year, centered around a fastball that not only had velocity, but command. He threw fastballs with 55 of his 120 pitches at an average of just over 95 mph, according to data from brooksbaseball.net. Of those 55 fastballs, 34 went for strikes, and 26 of those were classified as strikes not put in play. That included six swings and misses.

“That was the point the whole game,” Verlander said of pounding the strike zone. “I’ve been walking too many guys. It’s not like I was intentionally walking guys. I was just inconsistent. Not saying by any means that this was perfect and we’re going to go forward from here — that’s not the way this works — but it shows me that the stuff I’ve been working on was definitely helping. I was able to pound the zone with good stuff.”

He started out throwing his fastball hard, hitting 95 mph in the opening inning, and kept it there, peaking at 98 late in the game. The rest of his pitches followed from there — 20 out of 26 changeups for strikes, 13 of 21 sliders, and 11 of 18 curveballs.

“I think my rhythm was much better, my consistency was much better and my stuff was a lot better,” Verlander said. “That’s a good sign in and of itself.”

He went to three-ball counts all three hitters in the middle of the Mariners order — Michael Saunders, Justin Smoak and Kyle Seager — his first time through the lineup, but had only one other three-ball count all night. That was the fourth-inning walk to Smoak, which he paid for two pitches later with a Kyle Seager home run. That, he said, was a fastball he wanted in on Seager’s hands but left down for him to extend his arms and pull the ball with power.

“Typical lefty pitch, down and in,” Verlander said. “He just dropped the hands on it.”

The way Verlander responded from there was impressive, putting Mike Zunino and Dustin Ackley in 0-2 counts from there. Zunino escaped with a hit-by-pitch, but Ackley took a called third strike.

“He attacked the hitters,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “He wasn’t tiptoeing around anyone. He went after them.”

Verlander retired 12 of 13 batters from there and had an 0-2 count on James Jones, a pitch away from finishing the eighth inning, when Jones singles through the left side on Verlander’s 120th and final pitch.

That was enough for Ausmus. With 7 2/3 innings of three-run ball, a walk and seven strikeouts, that was plenty — not just for Ausmus, but for the sometimes perfectionist Verlander.

“This is my ninth year in baseball. There’s going to be bumps in the road. It’s never going to be just excellence,” Verlander said. “That’s one of the great things about being able to look to the next one, not dwelling on the last one, or past two, or past three or past 10. Whatever you have to work on to get ready for your next one and hopefully give your team a chance to win is what you need to focus on.”

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