Game 86: Verlander reprises Pitch Conservation Mode
This wasn’t the vintage form Justin Verlander had in mind. He’ll take it.
Before Justin Verlander had his MVP season in 2011, he had more than a few outings like this — crooked numbers and high pitch counts in the opening inning, followed by quick innings and zeros to salvage a winnable outing. He gave up a five-run, 43-pitch first inning April 11, 2010, then held the Indians to one hit over the next four innings before giving up another run in the sixth.
In 2010, I used to think of it as Verlander going into Pitch Conservation Mode — get early contact, get outs, get out of the inning quick, eat up as many innings as he can. Tuesday was a bit like that — five runs within the first seven batters, 31 pitches in the opening inning, then five shutout innings over 69 pitches to qualify for the win.
“You kind of walk a fine line there,” Verlander said, “between pitch conservation and not giving up any more runs, because you know if you give up any more runs, that’s probably going to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, especially when your team goes out there and starts to score some runs to get you back in the ballgame.”
He did it Tuesday by getting a feel for his secondary pitches and changing speeds. In the opening inning, didn’t seem to have a feel for any pitch other than his fastball. He was still kicking himself after the game for a changeup he threw to Adrian Gonzalez for a two-run double that opened the scoring, and he couldn’t be happy with the 0-2 curveball he hung to Juan Uribe for his two-run homer later on.
“The curveball to Uribe was homer. And then the changeup to Gonzalez was just a little bit up,” Verlander said. “You take those two away, or better executed, and it’s probably not a bad inning at all. If I execute that changeup to Gonzalez, we probably get a double play. It just didn’t happen. It is what it is. It happens. Gotta get better.”
He got better. It just happened from the second inning on.
Not only did all five of Verlander’s runs come in the opening inning, so did four of the five hits he allowed. He shut down the Dodgers offense following Uribe’s two-run homer until Hanley Ramirez walked leading off the sixth and Matt Kemp singled off the glove of a diving Nick Castellanos two batters later.
The stretch in between saw Verlander, who struggled to locate anything but his fastball in the opening inning, change speeds and flummox Dodgers hitters after that, retiring 13 in a row. The curveball that hung for Uribe to hit out on an 0-2 pitch sent down Matt Kemp swinging to end the third inning and induced an Andre Ethier comebacker in the fourth.
It was a good lineup that he shut down.
“Obviously first innings have been a little bit of an issue,” Verlander said. “That probably goes into finding a rhythm and getting things going. Hopefully it gets easier and easier and those first innings are no longer an issue.”