On Verlander’s encouraging day and its abrupt end
If Justin Verlander has a serious arm injury, he had an odd day to get one.
For two innings, the pitches Verlander delivered to Blue Jays batters were impressive enough to wonder whether the radar gun readings — 95-96 mph for Verlander in his opening inning, 94-95 in the second — were legit at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. Blue Jays writers attested that the radar, while maybe a tick off, wasn’t as generous as other spots.
“I felt great,” Verlander said. “I felt really good early. … Really, I couldn’t tell you I was putting much effort in early either. After the first inning I was like, ‘All right, let’s back down and just kind of cruise,’ and it was still coming out 93-94. That’s a big positive. That’s kind of the way I used to feel, my nice-and-easy range. Way-back-off was 91-92. Nice and easy was 94-95. And then when I wanted to really go get it, that’s when it was 99-100. So all that’s really positive.
“Curveball was excellent. The one I threw to [Russell] Martin was probably the best one I threw in two years.”
Once Bruce Rondon registered 95-97 mph in the fifth inning, Verlander’s readings loomed larger.
“Best I’ve seen him,” manager Brad Ausmus said.
“No, you can put an exclamation point if you want.”
The velocity dropped in the third inning, when Verlander said the cramp began to flare up. His fastball dropped to the low 90s, and he mixed in more offspeed stuff, as much of a mix as a half-dozen pitches in an inning will allow.
“I don’t really know what to tell you, besides I just felt crampy,” he said. “My whole body just kind of feels tight. I think it was a combination of things. I think with the mechanical adjustments I made, I might be using my muscles just slightly different. And also, I don’t think I hydrated myself as well as I should have today.”
It still wasn’t easy for him to admit.
“What was really hard for me,” Verlander said, “was to call them out. If it was regular season, I don’t know if I would’ve. I kind of battled myself mentally out there with that aspect of it. I threw a few pitches to see if it was better, and it stayed about the same. And then I’m out there thinking, ‘Well, this is Spring Training. There’s no reason to battle through it and risk an injury if it it’s not injured.'”
That’s when he signaled for pitching coach Jeff Jones, who brought manager Brad Ausmus and trainer Matt Rankin with him. And that’s when Verlander’s encouraging day came to an abrupt end. If it’s nothing more than a cramp, then he’ll be back out there next Thursday. Whether the stuff is the same might be the bigger mystery until then.
“That’s where I want to be,” he said. “Those first two innings are a great sign. I felt like myself, funny to say.
“I do leave today feeling like that’s where I want to be. But obviously there’s a little bit lingering in the back of your head hoping that doesn’t reoccur. And obviously now I’m going to take precautions.”