Verlander battles command in rehab start (updated)

Justin Verlander had a healthy arm by all indications in his rehab start for Triple-A Toledo Sunday afternoon. He did not, however, have his command yet, allowing six hits and two walks over 2 2/3 innings at Indianapolis.

It was his first outing in two months since straining his triceps in a Spring Training start March 27, and it seemed to show in his control. Verlander looked good with his velocity, consistently hitting 93-94 mph with his fastball with a few peaking at 95-96, but struggled to hit his spots in a two-run second inning.

Verlander threw 79 pitches, 50 for strikes, right around the 80-85 pitches the Tigers had targeted for him. Thirty-six of those pitches came in the second inning, when back-to-back walks loaded the bases with one out.

Verlander was a ball away from walking in a run when he threw his best fastballs of the day, following up a 96 mph heater with another at 95 to strike out former Tigers farmhand Gustavo Nunez.

Two pitches later, Verlander induced a popup that seemingly had him out of the inning, but shortstop Dixon Machado – fresh back from Detroit – lost track of it as it fell near the infield dirt, scoring two runs.

Three singles, two of them softly hit, loaded the bases again in the third on Verlander, who left after a three-pitch strikeout and a sacrifice fly.

Even with the three strikeouts, Verlander had to fight to finish off hitters. Twenty-two of his 50 strikes were pitches that Indy hitters fouled off, nine of them in two-strike counts to keep at-bats going. That and the defense — Verlander threw six extra pitches after the Machado misplay, which was ruled a double — helped to run up Verlander’s pitch count.

Manager Brad Ausmus said it’s too early to say anything about what Verlander will do next. He could make a second rehab start or potentially could rejoin the Tigers next weekend.

“We’ll talk to him Tuesday, figure out what the next step is,” Ausmus said.

Detroit could certainly use Verlander, but Tigers officials have exercised extreme patience with him over the last month and a half, waiting until they were certain about his health before taking each step. They had the benefit of an effective Kyle Lobstein filling in for much of that time, but Lobstein is now on the 15-day disabled list with left shoulder inflammation.

If Verlander throws another rehab start, Buck Farmer or Kyle Ryan would most likely start in his place. Farmer was called up to replace Lobstein and took the loss Thursday against the Angels. Ryan was called up and pitched three-plus innings in relief Wednesday at Oakland after Alfredo Simon went on the bereavement list for a family emergency. Simon is scheduled to start Tuesday against the A’s at Comerica Park.

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